By Courtney Lopez
Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico
Child hunger in New Mexico is a pressing issue and the daunting reality of this is that the faces of hunger aren’t easily identified.
According to the United States Census Bureau, in Doña Ana County, more than 25 percent of the population is living in poverty. The poverty threshold for a family of four is an annual income of $24,600. One fourth of our county not only struggles to make ends meet but struggles to put food on the table with limited resources, especially during the summer when children are not receiving low-cost or free meals at school.
Thanks to the Casa de Peregrinos’ (CdP) Children’s Summer Program, families can receive additional, nutritious food during the summer months.
The Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico awards grants annually to nonprofit organizations in the region through its Wellness Fund. The Wellness Fund is made possible because of generous donors who support projects and programs that positively impact maternal/child well-being. In 2016, the Community Foundation granted $7,900 to the CdP Children’s Summer Program for use in 2017 to support costs associated with the food distributions made possible by this program.
Both New Mexico and Doña Ana County food insecurity percentages have historically exceeded national food insecurity statistics, and is more prominent during the summer months. Low-income families struggle financially because for every child in the household, families must budget for 10 additional meals per week.
Hunger has long-lasting effects on children. Food insecurity is not only linked to physical impairments that are due to a weak immune system but it affects an individual’s mental and emotional well-being and can cause developmental delays as well.
“If we didn’t have funding, we wouldn’t be able to buy the additional fresh food that we provide through the program,” said CdP Executive Director Lorenzo Alba, Jr. “We make it a point to provide foods like apples and oranges because we don’t want children to develop diabetes or other health-related issues because of the food we’re providing.”
CdP created the Children’s Summer Program in 2009, and it is the smallest of CdP’s food distributions. In all, CdP spends a total of 20 cents per pound for food and, according to Alba, it provides a benefit that far exceeds its cost.
Last year, the summer program served a total of 482 families including 1,807 children.
“We’ve had a lot of success with our program but I don’t think it should be measured by the number of people we served,” Alba said. “Instead it should be measured by the significance of providing nutritious foods to these families.”
The Community Foundation is proud to support programs through its Wellness Fund that are addressing even a portion of the child population affected by hunger.
Courtney Lopez is the Assistant Director for the Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.