Hunger is an issue for 1 in 6 New Mexicans, according to Feeding America’s 2017 Map the Meal Gap report.

The rate of hunger for children in the state is even higher. One in 4 children is food insecure in New Mexico. In some counties, the rate of food-insecure children climbs to as high as 34.8 percent.

Being food insecure means that at least part of the time, a family lacks access to enough food for an active, healthy life for all family members and has limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate foods, according to Feeding America.

To help address this problem, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) supports the Roadrunner Food Bank Childhood Hunger Initiative to provide healthy food to low-income households in New Mexico.

“New Mexico has high rates of poverty, and with that comes hunger,” said Sonya Warwick, Roadrunner Food Bank communications officer. “Research shows that low-income families do not have the ability to access nutritious food.”

BCBSNM recently renewed a three-year grant to the Roadrunner Food Bank’s Childhood Hunger Initiative for 2018 through 2020. The grant is for $60,000 per year. The grant supports food distribution at 11 schools in New Mexico. The grant also provides food for two senior centers. 

“BCBSNM understands there is a connection between hunger and health, and mobile food pantries with nutritious foods can make a healthy difference for families in our state,” said Kurt Shipley, president, BCBSNM.

BCBSNM made its first donation to Roadrunner Food Bank in 2015. Over three years, the grant has supplied more than 780,000 pounds of food to 50,000 clients. School staff invited hungry families in their schools to join, and each family received 50 pounds of food per month.

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On delivery days, a large truck brings pallets of food to the school. Helpers unpack and set up the food. The school space changes into a temporary farmer’s market where families pick up canned and boxed items, proteins, dairy products and fresh fruits and vegetables.

These mobile food pantries bring wholesome food to families in their own communities. They help households save for other needs, such as gasoline and utilities. The program eases families’ worries about where their next meal will come from. And having food pantries at their children’s school fosters a sense of comfort and trust.

Miriam Guerrero is a food recipient at Van Buren Middle School, where her sister goes to school. Guerrero said that the food pantry helps feed her family. “It’s helped us because my dad is the only one that works,” Guerrero said.

Roadrunner Food Bank’s Childhood Hunger Initiative poll shows that as a result of its program, 97 percent of surveyed families said that they ate more fruits and vegetables. Eighty-three percent said they ate less unhealthy foods. Sixty-one percent said their children had better grades, and 56 percent had better school attendance.

The BCBSNM grant has also brought more awareness about health, Warwick said. The Care Van®, BCBSNM’s mobile health unit, visits many of the food distributions. The Care Van teams up with licensed health care workers to give basic health care.

The donations come from BCBSNM’s major grant program, Healthy Kids, Healthy Families®. The program focuses on healthy eating, staying active, disease prevention and management, and supporting safe environments.