An Interview with New Mexico Appleseed’s Jennifer Ramo
Most of us are aware that New Mexico is a state burdened by poverty. However, we may not be aware just how much poverty affects children and their access to food. Child hunger is an increasing issue all over the nation, but it is especially prevalent in the state of New Mexico. The Children’s Defense Fund states that in 2011 159,009 New Mexican students were in the free and reduced school lunch program and 46,612 participated in the Summer Food Service Program. Our state has a huge need for food support in schools. In fact, New Mexico Food Banks report that in 2010 thirty percent of children were living in poverty in our state. That means that New Mexico had the third highest child poverty rate in the country!
While these statistics may sound dire, many organizations and firms have risen to the challenge of combating youth hunger. At the forefront of these organizations is New Mexico Appleseed, a non-profit law firm that fights for food justice in the Albuquerque school system. Appleseed was founded in Albuquerque in 2006 and it is currently one of seventeen centers around the nation. The firm has been successful in creating food programs and implementing policies into New Mexican legislation. In order to get a better understanding of Appleseed’s impact on Albuquerque’s schools, I had an interview with Jennifer Ramo, Appleseed’s executive director.
According to Jennifer, Appleseed creates “systemic solutions” to poverty issues in New Mexico. They work with the state, cities, counties, and schools in order to solve hunger issues. “Appleseed is very unique because we collaborate with other groups to talk about the issues and solve problems. We perform economic research and then test it – no one else really does that,” said Jennifer. This unique approach has been very successful in changing policy and because of it great things are starting to happen in New Mexico.
For example, Appleseed’s “Breakfast After the Bell” bill (SB 144) allows children in low income schools around the city (ones with at least 85% of children needing reduced lunch) to be served a nutritious breakfast during the first few minutes of class time. Breakfast is given to every student in the classroom, not just the ones that qualify for food assistance. Jennifer mentioned that serving breakfast during class is much more effective than when it is served before class starts. Statistics have shown that only about 38% of children receive breakfast when it is served before class (due to children being late, not having enough time, etc.) whereas 90-100% will receive breakfast when it is served in class. The Albuquerque Journal recently featured Appleseed in an article stating that the bill is estimated to feed about 55,000 more students a year while maintaining the $2 million allocated already each year for lunch subsidies. According to Jennifer, Appleseed is still finishing up some of the bill’s details but it was signed by Governor Susana Martinez on April 2nd, 2011.
In addition to the breakfast bill, Appleseed has worked to improve school lunch and has created summer food programs to ensure children still have access to quality food when school is not in session. With the help of caring organizations like Appleseed, New Mexico is well on its way to finding food justice and ensuring that its students are happy, healthy, and well-fed.
-Posted by Heather