Thursday, September 20, 2012

A Farewell Tribute to the New Mexico Collaboration to End Hunger

It was with great disappointment and sadness that we learned of the news that the New Mexico Collaboration to End Hunger was disbanding. The Collaboration met the same fate as state-supported New Mexico Task Force to End Hunger, whose mission, among other things, was to bring greater awareness about hunger in our state and to increase cooperation among agencies addressing hunger and poverty in our state.

I don't know the exact reasons why the decision was made to disband the Collaboration, an effective organization funded and supported by private sources (including the Albuquerque Foundation).

One can only guess that the decision had to do with the current economic downturn.  This would be ironic, because the Collaboration was created to track the economic trends and factors that led to hunger in communities in our state and to bring together the various groups working to address hunger and poverty in New Mexico.  You probably know that New Mexico had the highest rate of poverty in 2011, according to the U.S. Census Bureau's latest report on poverty in the U.S.  This means we also have a high rate of food insecurity.

The disappearance of the Collaboration does not mean that all programs that the organization support will also go away.  Partnering organizations will oversee some of the Collaboration's adult and senior projects.

I don't want to dwell on the reasons why the collaboration no longer exists.  Rather, I want to take this opportunity to celebrate the accomplishments that were made under the leadership of Nancy Pope, Sarah Newman, Meghann Dallin, Julia Price, Krista Kelly and others.

These are not in any chronological order but represent great milestones.

Widespread Efforts 
In its short existence, the Collaboration had a wide and lasting impact on the fight against hunger in our state. In my opinion, one of its biggest accomplishments was its ability to put together a comprehensive strategy, through a five-year plan to address hunger in New Mexico.  The plan was not developed in a vacuum.  Thanks to the efforts of Nancy Pope and Sarah Newman, the collaboration held  a series of community meetings in every corner of our state.  The collaboration also worked closely with national organizations like the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) and Share Our Strength (SOS).  Using data from FRAC, the collaboration put out occasional reports, including one from FRAC that noted that more than 28% of households in New Mexico suffered from food hardship.  The organization partnered with local organizations and government agencies to promote solutions, including mobile summer meals in Torrance County, amd the visioning workshop and community discussoin on school lunches.

NoKid Hungry
Another huge accomplishment was the partnership with SOS on the NoKid Hungry New Mexico campaign.  SOS implemented the program initially in only a handful of states, and New Mexico was selected for two reasons:  The first is the consistently high rate of adult and child poverty in our state.

Here is the second reason, which I mentioned in a blog post in February 2011.
The program is first being implemented in states where there are strong anti-hunger coalitions already working on this issue.  We were among the first chosen because of the great work of the New Mexico Collabortion to End Hunger.  Now SOS and the Collaboration are working on a joint campaign called NoKid Hungry New Mexico.  Read Childhood Hunger Campaign Under Way in New Mexico.
There were many efforts associated with NoKid Hunger New Mexico, including the mapping of summer meal sites for school-age kids and teens.  The visioning workshop that we mentioned above also was related in part to the NoKid Hungry campaign and included a school lunch survey  And Meghann Dallin, using data from SOS, wrote a piece about how the large percentage of families in New Mexico that go without enough food.

Down in Ruidoso/Mescalero
The Collaboration also had a strong presence in the communities of Ruidoso and Mescalero Apache, thanks to the efforts of Julia Price, executive director of the New Mexico Alliance for Children (NMAC)

The Collaboration supported a handful of pilot programs implemented by the NMAC, which also worked closely with the Boys and Girls Club of Mescalero, the US Forest Service (Lincoln County Ranger Station) and others.

The projects promoted gardening, composting, planting of seedlings, and healthy food preparation.  The projects included a pizza garden, a soup garden, a chldren's garden at the Ranger station in Ruidoso, and a fall harvest event for the children of Mescalero and Ruidoso. The NMAC also competed for funding to plant an orchard in Hondo Valley.

Because NMAC is a strong organization, the projects in Ruidoso and Mescalero are likely to continue under Ms. Price's leadership.

Recognition and Support
Nancy Pope and Krista Kelly
I would be remiss if I didn't recognize Sarah Newman's contributions to the success of the day-to-day operations of the collaboration for much of the organization's existence. Her dedication to promoting anti-hunger efforts and nutrition education was admirable.  On a hot summer day in 2010, she took time off from her daily routine to assist me with a joint presentation to 28 middle school students and three teachers in Valencia County.  

Finally, I want to recognize Nancy Pope, who was one of five finalists for the Champions Against Child Hunger award. Nancy is pictured above at a farewell party with her successor Krista Kelly.

The Collaboration certainly made its mark in the fight against poverty and food insecurity in New Mexico. Others will pick up some of the slack, but you will be missed greatly! Thank You and Godspeed.

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