It was noon on a summer weekday and the cafeteria at Capital High School was full of students of all ages each eating pizza, salad and an orange, and drinking milk or chocolate milk.
Meanwhile, at the nearby Boys and Girls Club at Zona del Sol, some 80 children enjoyed a lunch of chicken salad, wheat crackers, sunflower kernels and apple sauce, and milk or chocolate milk.
Schools are closed, but in a state where food insecurity rates for children are growing, two Santa Fe entities are working to ensure kids have free access to healthy breakfasts and lunches. Santa Fe Public Schools is serving fresh meals at 11 school sites and Franklin Miles Park, while The Food Depot, working with the city and county of Santa Fe, serves prepackaged meals at 10 other sites.
Both programs are free for students ages 1 to 18. The school program is also available to adults for $1.50 for breakfast and $3.75 for lunch.
“We have 8,500 kids eating with us during the school year and we want to keep as many of them as healthy as possible in the summer,” said Betsy Cull, assistant director of Santa Fe Public Schools student nutrition department. “This is one of the options they have to come and eat since they may or may not have something to eat at home.”
The program, in its 17th year, is offered at a dozen schools that already have summer programming in place, such as Capital Highl, plus Franklin Miles Park. Cull said the district buys as much produce as it can from local growers. It also purchases fruits and vegetables such as peaches and salad fixings that it can’t always get during the school year.
Meanwhile, the Food Depot “Lunch Box Express” program, now 3 years old, and its “City Camp” program, in its second year, bring meals to where kids live or play, like Zona del Sol.
Sherry Hooper, executive director of The Food Depot, said that by delivering the meals to students, it helps “families that may not have a way to get their children to a program that requires transportation.”
The Food Depot uses a Santa Fe Public Schools bus to deliver the meals to help erase any possible stigma students may feel about accepting free food.
“We believe children are more comfortable seeking help when they see something they can identify with, like a school bus,” Hooper said. “By bringing the meals directly to the kids we have not seen that [stigma] happen. The kids seem very eager to line up for the meal.”
The Food Depot is working on updating the kitchen at the old Kaune Elementary School, which will soon open as the pre-K oriented United Way Early Learning Center at Kaune. It plans to make and then deliver hot, fresh meals for clients starting in October.
The Food Depot also helps provide arts, recreational and gardening activities at many of the sites to keep the kids engaged in learning. All told, the program serves more than 30,000 meals. The school program supplies 12,000 to 14,000 summer meals to students for lunch and about half that number of breakfast, Cull said.
The large percentage of students taking advantage of the program reflects the number of New Mexico families struggling to put food on the table. A U.S. Department of Agriculture report released earlier this year said more than half the households in New Mexico that receive food assistance have children.
And a United Health Foundation report on the health of women and children released earlier this year said that the rate of New Mexicans facing food insecurity — meaning they lack regular access to an adequate amount of food and nutrition and are often uncertain about where their next meal may come from — increased to 17.6 percent from 12.3 percent the year before.
“Hunger doesn’t end during the summer and it can double for a lot of these kids because they become so reliant on these programs when school is in session,” said Daniel Valverde, director of outreach for New Mexico Appleseed, a regional nonprofit that works to end hunger.
“Some of these kids don’t have access to a healthy meal during the weekend so they have to rely on these meal sites.”
Both of the Santa Fe programs are funded by federal USDA dollars and administered by the state Children, Youth and Families Department. The USDA oversees the federal lunch program in public schools.
Summer meal programs
Santa Fe Public Schools offers its free summer meal program through late July (dates vary from site to site). Students ages 1 to 18 years old eat for free. Students do not need to be Santa Fe Public Schools students to partake in the program. Adults can eat for a fee of $1.50 for breakfast and $3.75 for lunch. Cash or checks accepted; try to bring exact change.
Franklin Miles Park, 1027 Camino Carlos Rey. Lunch only from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m., through July 20
Aspen Community School, 450 La Madera St. Breakfast 7:30-8:30 a.m. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., through July 25.
Capital High School, 4851 Paseo del Sol. Breakfast 7:30-8:30 a.m. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-12:45 p.m., through July 25.
César Chávez Elementary School, 6251 Jaguar Drive. Breakfast 7:30-8:30 a.m. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., through July 24.
Chaparral Elementary School, 2451 Avenida Chaparral. Breakfast 7:30- 8:30 a.m. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., through July 25.
Early College Opportunities (ECO) High School, 2301 W. Zia Road. Breakfast 7:30- 8 a.m. Lunch 11 a.m.-11:30 a.m., through June 25.
E.J. Martinez Elementary School, 401 W. San Mateo Road. Breakfast 7:30-8:30 a.m. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., through July 24.
El Camino Real Academy, 2500 S. Meadows Road. Breakfast 7:30-8:30 a.m. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., through July 24.
Nina Otero Community School, 5901 Herrera Drive. Breakfast 7:30-8:30 a.m. Lunch 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., through July 24.
Piñon Elementary School, 2921 Camino Los Caballos. Breakfast 7:30-8:30 a.m. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., through June 29.
Ramirez Thomas Elementary School, 3200 Calle Po Ae Pi. Breakfast 7:30-8:30 a.m. Lunch 11-11:30 a.m., through June 24.
Salazar Elementary School, 1231 Apache Ave. Breakfast 7:30-8:30 a.m. Lunch 11:15 a.m.-12:30 p.m., through June 25.
Sweeney Elementary School, 501 Airport Road. Breakfast 7:30-8:30 a.m.. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m., through June 25.
The Food Depot offers two different free summer food service programs. The “lunch box” express delivers lunch to the following locations through Aug. 3 and is offered to all children ages 1-18 years old.
Country Club Mobile Home Park, 6151 Airport Road, 11-11:30 a.m.
Cottonwood Mobile Home Park, 6441 Cypress St., 12:30-1 p.m.
Lone Star Trailer Ranch Mobile Home Park, 3471 Cerrillos Road, 12-12:30 p.m.
Riverside De Santa Fe Mobile Home Park, 7460 Riverside Loop, 11:45 a.m. - 12:15 p.m.
Sangre de Cristo Apartments Community Center, 1801 Espinacitas St., 11-11:30 a.m.
The Food Depot’s “city camps” program delivers breakfast and lunch meals to children 1-18 years of age at the following locations through late July-early August. Dates vary based on site.
The Boys and Girls Club at Zona del Sol, 6493 Jaguar Drive. Breakfast 8:15-9 a.m. Lunch 12-1 p.m., through July 27.
Camino de Jacobo Club, 52 Camino de Jacobo. Breakfast 8-8:30 a.m. Lunch 12:-12:30 p.m., through July 27.
Valle Vista Club, 8 Las Lomas. Breakfast 8:30-9 a.m. Lunch 12-12:30 p.m., through July 27
Monica Roybal Youth Center, 737 Agua Fria St. Breakfast 8-8;30 a.m. Lunch 11:30 a.m.-12:00 p.m., through July 26.
Genoveva Chavez Community Center, 3221 Rodeo Road. Breakfast 7:45-8:15 a.m. Lunch 11:30 a.m.- 1 p.m., through Aug. 3.