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Michelle Adames, executive director of Jardin de los Niños, says the organization heard from teachers that some children were often hungry when they returned to school on Mondays. (Photo by Richard Kehl)

Providing Healthy Food for Homeless and Near-Homeless Children

For many families experiencing homelessness, problems accessing healthy food only get worse on the weekends when children aren’t receiving meals at school or day care. Going without regular, healthy meals on the weekends can negatively impact childhood development and learning. Kids suffering from hunger often have a hard time concentrating at school.

At Jardin de los Niños, a nonprofit child care center that serves children and families who are homeless and near-homeless in Las Cruces, New Mexico, teachers noticed that children were lethargic when they came back to the classroom on Mondays. Kids were overeating at school on Mondays, trying to make up for the lack of food over the weekend, explained Michelle Adames, executive director of Jardin de los Niños.

That’s when Jardin de los Niños began the weekend anti-hunger project. The initiative provides consistent, nutritious meals for the weekend when families might not otherwise eat or eat well. This year, Jardin de los Niños’ weekend anti-hunger project received a $25,000 grant from Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico (BCBSNM) through its Healthy Kids, Healthy Families® initiative. BCBSNM also supported the program in 2018.

Every week, up to 24 families – including some 50 children — receive a basket filled with nutritious foods, such as fruits, veggies, grains, dairy products and meats. In addition to addressing food insecurity for vulnerable families, the program encourages healthy eating habits to increase attentiveness and overall health and wellness.

Rhonda, a mother of two young children who attend Jardin de los Niños, said the weekend anti-hunger project has helped her family eat healthier. Before the food baskets, they were eating healthy only sporadically. “Ever since we’ve gotten the baskets, she eats her fruit and vegetables,” she said of her daughter.

“It’s really helped out because we’re on a fixed income,” said Angela, another parent with children at Jardin de los Niños. “I have eight kids, so my food runs out.”

The nutritious food supports healthy development and helps kids arrive at the classroom ready to learn. Jardin de los Niños provides early childhood education, therapeutic intervention and family and community health services.

“This is a great place,” said Frank, whose two-year-old son goes to the center. “They help me out tremendously.”

A Division of Health Care Service Corporation, a Mutual Legal Reserve Company, an Independent Licensee of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association