One Day in September

School can be so much fun.  Crayons, markers, and backpacks!  Seeing friends and hanging out on the playground.  It is a time of hard work for students, but also a time that hungry children can count on school subsidized meals – at least twice a day.  But it isn’t enough.  In New Mexico, one in three children is at risk of hunger.  Dinner time, weekends, holidays and summers are tough for kids and worrisome for their parents.  During their time away from school, low-income children and their families stress about how they will eat. Without enough calories, how can we expect children to thrive, learn and grow?  

Roadrunner Food Bank is looking to change this through a brand new initiative.  Thanks to Morgan Stanley, Walmart and so many other generous donors, the Childhood Hunger Initiative (CHI) program began in September at schools across the state.  It brings a combination of hunger programs to 51 school partners in 11 counties including mobile food pantries, school-based food pantries and backpacks filled with food for the weekend.

A former program, called the Food for Kids program, supplied food to hungry children through backpacks filled with food and was given to children at schools to eat over the weekend. The Food Bank discovered that multiple family members were sharing the food-filled backpacks meant to feed only one child.   The program was revamped to provide elementary school partners access to more food for hungry families in their school.  The biggest change with the new initiative is that is provides food to the entire family including younger children not yet in school.


Morgan Stanley staff volunteer to help distribute food to families at Lowell Elementary in Albuquerque

Melody Wattenbarger, president and CEO of Roadrunner Food Bank said, “When we realized how many children in one family were sharing food meant for one child, we had to act. We began to talk and implement new ways we could bring more food to families.  It made sense for us to take our Food for Kids backpack program and expand it in new ways to feed the entire family. By providing enough food to the entire family unit, hungry children in those homes will benefit too.”

The Childhood Hunger Initiative ensures low-income families have a source of nutritious food to prepare at home through their school. The new initiative will allow the Food Bank to triple the amount of food given to school partners right in their own neighborhoods.


Hungry families receiving food from Morgan Stanley volunteers and volunteers of the Central United Methodist Church in Albuquerque

To get this new initiative off its feet, the Food Bank had to raise funds from supporters and donors.  Many stepped forward to help including Morgan Stanley, Walmart and so many others. In fact, Morgan Stanley provided a $50,000 grant to help launch the newly revamped initiative.

Morgan Stanley Senior Vice President Robert Hartmann said, “We are honored to be able to help Roadrunner Food Bank in its important fight against child hunger.  Giving back to the communities where we live and work is one of Morgan Stanley’s core values.”

 S1420029smallVolunteers continue bringing in food including produce for hungry families

Their grants to school-based hunger initiatives across the country are part of the latest phase in Morgan Stanley’s more than $14 million commitment to Feeding America and its network of 200 local food banks that distribute millions of meals every year to children and families across the United States.  As part of the initiative, Morgan Stanley will award more than $4 million over three years to local food banks like Roadrunner Food Bank to launch, expand and sustain critical childhood feeding programs.

 IMG_0324smallMorgan Stanley volunteers gathered for a quick volunteer picture before returning to help

The impact can already be seen up close in one of our schools.

One day in September, we were at a mobile food pantry distribution at a Las Cruces school serving families from both Columbia Elementary and Doña Ana Elementary in Las Cruces, NM. There were 15 volunteers who came to help get the food out and families were lined up around the building.  The cafeteria was set up like a mini farmers market with meat, fish, produce, cereal and bread for 80 families.  Every family in attendance received the equivalent of a grocery cart filled with healthy and nutritious food.

Some families had small children not yet in school and some had children currently attending one of the two schools.  Many of these families were not the “traditional” family of mom and dad and two kids.  They were mom, dad, auntie, grandma and all the cousins.  Families in Las Cruces need to help each other to make ends meet, and that usually means multiple generations live together.  Feeding a family with five or six growing kids is not an easy task, so this new initiative brings a very important source of food they can count of every month.

A mother of two daughters told me, “If this food wasn’t here today, I don’t know how we would eat the rest of the month.  I was worried how I was going to feed my kids.”  Every family that one September day had their own story, but this one hit home with me because her oldest daughter was my student when I taught pre-school.

Each family was excited to see what they received and the kids were so happy. They were very thankful and appreciative of what they received.   The compassion and enthusiasm of the volunteers and staff of both schools was absolutely amazing.   And the response of the families touched the volunteers too.  Volunteers asked how to go about volunteering at other schools with this new initiative.  I was humbled, and I was so proud of what did for these families this one day in September. It would be great if programs like this weren’t necessary in our country, but they are, and I am so glad we can provide it.

Co-authored by:

Rachel Anaya, Manager of Community Relations at the Las Cruces Branch and Sonya Warwick, Communications Officer at the Food Bank.

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