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State delivers food as part of Hunger Initiative

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Workers with the Salvation Army and the Head Start program load trucks Wednesday morning with food donated that Head Start will distribute to area families. The Salvation Army Food Bank stored the food for a short time. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

Community action groups to begin addressing childhood hunger

About one in four children living in Chaves County experienced hunger or food insecurity in 2017, according to the most recent data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and some food distribution occurring today in Roswell is part of the effort to ease the problem.

The food will go to about 150 to 200 families who participate in Head Start programs in Chaves and Eddy counties. The seven Head Start locations in Roswell, Dexter, Artesia, Carlsbad and Loving serve 688 students, according to Mary Alice Perry, the director of the federally funded early childhood education program, which is run in the local area by the Southeast New Mexico Community Action Corp.

“We serve a lot more families (than food is available for),” said Perry, “so we have to determine how to allocate it in a way that makes sense.”

Patty Keane, Hunger Initiatives Coordinator for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, said that the current food distribution is only a small part of a long-term, multifaceted effort to eliminate childhood hunger in a state that has the most hungry children in the nation, according to Feeding America.

“One food drive isn’t going to solve the hunger issue and we certainly are not feeding every family, even for Head Start,” said Keane. “But what it does do is meet that immediate need to help put food on the table for young children and everybody in the house.”

The food is being distributed prior to the weekends because families often can experience the greatest food shortage when their children are not receiving free breakfasts and lunches through school programs. Keane said that at least 90%, and as high as 100%, of Head Start families are low-income earners. She added that Head Start is experienced in managing food programs.

“What is really nice about going through Head Start centers … they know the families who need food the most, even of their own population,” she said.

To supplement the governor’s Hunger Initiative and its correlated Hunger Action Fund administered by the Santa Fe Community Foundation, state government employees donated non-perishable food during the winter holidays. The New Mexico State Police alone collected about 4,000 boxes of cereal and oatmeal statewide, Keane said.

Since the food drive was completed, the Governor’s Office and the General Services Department have been working with various community organizations to get the food to families with children. Some has been distributed through the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department, which has an intergenerational food program, and some through Head Start programs in Grants, Gallup, Socorro and Tome, New Mexico. An estimated 470 youth received food through those Head Start locations.

Now six pallets of food have been shared with Chaves and Eddy counties.

The local Salvation Army also lent an assist, agreeing to store the food for a time until Head Start workers could pick it up Wednesday morning.

Although the Governor’s Office offered to give the Salvation Army some baby food, the nonprofit decided that Head Start families probably had a greater need for that type of food, said Jennifer Gordon, Salvation Army social services coordinator.

Captain Niki Woollin, co-corps officer, said that the organization was willing to do what it could.

“We are united in the same mission to end hunger,” she said.

Keane said the Governor’s Office’s other efforts include working through community organizations to serve more families, informing people how to participate in available food programs and letting families know about available tax credits that will enable them to keep more of their income.

She also said that community action groups will start meeting in March to come up with plans for how local groups and businesses can work together to get more food to children in need — an estimated 4,000 in Chaves County. Former State Sen. Tim Jennings is expected to lead the Chaves County group.

“We are really looking at how we can get every community,” Keane said, “not just the ones that experience the highest rates of hunger, but every community because it is everywhere.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.