COMMENTARY: Did you know that nearly one-third of all New Mexico’s children under the age of 18 are considered food-insecure, meaning they don’t get enough food? According to Feeding America, New Mexico is consistently ranked as one of the worst in the country in this category, and in some counties nearly 40 percent of children go hungry. We are in a state of crisis and our children are suffering for our inaction.
A recent article from The Santa Fe New Mexican, “Schools, lawmakers grapple with feeding kids breakfast,” peaked my attention. Growing up in a food-insecure home in a rural, poverty-stricken area of Southern Illinois, I understand the importance of a quality school breakfast.
Furthermore, as a student pastor, I saw firsthand the need in my community to combat hunger in children. To help close the gap, we started serving breakfast and lunch on Sundays. I spend many hours per week assisting churches on how to serve children and families in overcoming this food-insecurity crisis.
Feeding children should never be something we must grapple with. It may be challenging, but we have an obligation to make sure every child is fed – and without them having to choose between 1st-hour reading or eating in the cafeteria because their bus may have been late.
The concern of some educators and lawmakers is that eating in class takes away from educational time, or that some children may be left behind in learning because they are eating in the cafeteria. I understand and respect these concerns, but feeding a child a quality breakfast is just as important as feeding them knowledge — and may even help with the latter.
We have to take a hard look at how we serve the most vulnerable amongst us. Since schools have children for upwards of 8 hours per day, the responsibility is heavily upon them to help solve this crisis.
One solution may be to extend the school day by 20 minutes and allow all classes to go to the cafeteria for breakfast at varying times between 8:30 and 9:30 a.m., much like is done with lunch. This would allow schools to push back their lunch hours until the early afternoon. In doing this, children would be less hungry when they get home. For those children who don’t get dinner, this could be a significant help.
The Legislature does need to act, but only to make sure enough money is appropriated to make sure every child has access to these two meals per day. The education system needs to act to make sure it helps solve this issue in a way that isn’t obtrusive to teachers — but, most importantly, allows children access to food without having to choose between food or knowledge.
And, finally, the community needs to act to support local food banks so backpack programs can continue to be supported, giving children food to take home over the weekend. Community organizations and churches must also act to provide children with meals over the summer, when only a small percentage of children have access to food during the day compared with when they are in school.
Together, we can work to solve this hunger crisis and make sure every child and teen in New Mexico has access to food. It must be a priority, but it will take all of us working together to make it happen – legislators, educators, and community members.
Jeffrey Isbell is a local political operative who resides in Las Cruces. His passion is in community development assisting children and teenagers to outlive their lives through strengthening the family unit, promoting positive choices, and providing community solutions.