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Southwest Spotlight talks with Michael Chavez about the Summer Food Program

CRISS:  This is Southwest Spotlight on the Public Radio Network. And with me now is Michael Chavez. Michael is with the Public Education Department. He is the Director of the Student Success and Wellness Bureau. And Michael, we're going to talk today about summer food for New Mexico kids. Can you tell me what your mission is with this program?

CHAVEZ:  Well, right now, thanks for having me. And our mission right, right now. Is trying to feed as many kids across the state of New Mexico. Make sure that they are, you know, entitled and get a free meal for breakfast and lunch during the summer months. We've been working hard with our sister agency at the ECCD: that is, the Early Childhood and Care Department to, you know, feed kids across the state. We have over 600 locations in New Mexico, so kids do have access to a meal. So, we've been working closely with the public schools, charters, and then with some other private entities to give meals to kids.

CRISS:  That's great. I want to mention right now that they can look online using any one of the search engines for Summer Food NM, that's Summerfoodnm.org, and it will give them a map. And it will tell them every place in the state that the food is being served. Including the names of elementary schools and parks and so forth. Is that- is that your advice for people who want to know where?

CHAVEZ:  Yeah, you're right, you know that. Look at that site, and all the sites are pinned on the location across the state.  And if they have any questions or from anything that doesn't fit in their area. And are still looking for some access to a meal, just give us a call. You know we'll see what other locations are in this area. These maps are going to be updated and every week here for us. And you know some of these sites are going to be changing from month to month and week two weeks. So, if there are some areas that they feel like they may not have access to meals, just give us a call, and we will happily work with them and see what they can find in their area.

CRISS:  OK, sounds very good. Why is it important to have food for the kids during the summer? What what? What's the? What's the idea behind having food for summer currently?

CHAVEZ:  Well, I think what's really important is this summer at all times. Now we would learn that some kids don't even have access to a meal. And we want to make sure that these kids can go to their local parks or their local schools. And, you know, get something in their system in food.  And working closely with their schools, or whether it's. Other entities such as child care centers to get these meals for their kids. I think the other thing that we're working closely with our department. And is some of these kids that may be receiving meals are also going to be eligible for pandemic EBT benefits across the state. And some of these kids, especially in your area or other parts of the state, will be getting this money as well at the end of the summer.

CRISS:  OK, well, let's talk about who you serve. What children are eligible for this food?

CHAVEZ:  So, all children, we're allowing all kids from zero to 17 to receive a meal during the summer month. They just need to go and show up and get a meal at each of these sites, and some sites are allowing up to 7 meals for the whole week, including Saturdays and Sundays.  Some sites are doing for five meals. It Just depends on each site. It also depends on and need.  So, we're seeing a lot of the Albuquerque area and some of the more rural or giving out seven meals to these kids or meals for the weekend, and some are not, or they're just going day to day. So, these kids, you know. Like I say, they need to take advantage of this. It's all free. And you know, we really want to make sure that they, you know get access to these meals,

CRISS:  And there's no paperwork involved. Is that correct? You just have to have your child be there.

CHAVEZ:  No paperwork whatsoever. 


CHAVEZ:  No paperwork they could. They just need to show up. They don't even need to provide identification anything from another school district, and they go out and get a meal somewhere else. They're eligible for that as well.

CRISS:  OK, let's tell him. One more thing, if they're worried about COVID-19. It is a grab-and-go type of lunch. Which means they can take the lunch in a bag away from the lunch site. They do not have to be gathered there in the park. Is that correct?

CHAVEZ:  That is correct!  We used to require that kids need to eat on site. Whether was at a park or out of school. Now let's grab and go under the Covid restriction, and they could take these meals home and eat them, and they don't need to stay at the school because of the potential exposure to Covid.

CRISS:  OK, Michael, we're out of time. Thank you very much.

CHAVEZ:  Thank you.

CRISS:  Thank you, especially for the children.

CHAVEZ:  OK, have a great day.

CRISS:  This is Don Criss, and this has been Southwest Spotlight.