Legislation aims to help hungry New Mexico students, address food waste

Politics - Government

SANTA FE, NM (KRQE) – A state senator’s new idea to look into repackaging school meals to send home with low-income students could impact tens of thousands of kids in Albuquerque alone.

In Albuquerque Public Schools where at least 55,000 students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, some people say more help is needed to feed students facing food insecurity, meaning they don’t always have access to nutritious food at home.

“Being a substitute teacher, I see the kids that are really hungry,” Latoya Dixon of Albuquerque said.

State Sen. Nancy Rodriguez is proposing the Public Education Department form a working group to see if districts can repackage school meals to send home with students and also cut down on food waste. The plan is detailed in her pre-filed Senate Memorial 10 that she will introduce in the upcoming legislative session.

“I think it would be very beneficial to the parents,” Dixon added.

The need to help hungry students extends to Rio Rancho where the district already helps about 300 families a week through food pantries, and sending some kids home with healthy snacks on the weekends and even during the week from what’s leftover from school lunches.

“At the end of the day at some of our schools, the nurse will go over, gather all those items, they’ll re-package them and they send them home with students that day,” RRPS Communications Director Melissa Perez explained.

RRPS said it would want to take part in the proposed working group to figure out how to package the school lunches safely, particularly hot foods.

“Let’s say we have hamburgers leftover that day,” Perez stated. “We send them home with a student and then it sits in a backpack for several hours. We don’t want anyone to get sick so, of course, we’re concerned about students getting sick and then, of course, any liability with that.”

It’s unclear how this legislation might be used in districts like Santa Fe, where Superintendent Dr. Veronica Garcia said there’s not much food waste.

“Santa Fe Public Schools has incorporated a computer program that allows us to estimate how much food will be needed for each meal, how much food we have to cook and how much food can be reused,” Garcia explained about the software operated by a company called Heartland.

Still, she said she can get behind this legislation to help students in the classroom.

“If our kids are hungry, they’re not going to be able to learn, and so I do think addressing food insecurity is important,” Garcia added.

RRPS said its food vendor, Sodexo, is working with technology similar to what Santa Fe uses to help reduce food waste.

In an emailed statement, APS said the following:

The district is working with city and county agencies to identify a means to donate more food, but there’s a process that would require us to first navigate health and safety standards, as well as the standards for anyone receiving food donations. APS is grateful to our legislators for studying any and all options that support student meal funding, and opportunities to reduce the overall food insecurity challenge we face as a city and state.

Albuquerque Public Schools

The district couldn’t say just how much of its food goes to waste.

If this senate memorial passes, the working group would need to report its recommendations to a legislative committee by November, ahead of the 2021 session.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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