The key to academic success is constantly studied, debated and investigated. There are a million ideas about how students can excel in the classroom but a group of local volunteers are offering a simple one─give them lunch.
For a variety of reasons, not every student arrives at school with money or a brown paper lunch sack. For two years Aaron’s Kids, a program operated through the First United Methodist Church in Los Alamos, has worked to provide those young people with a noon-day meal.
James Little, who volunteers in the program and helped establish it, said the program serves Los Alamos High School, Los Alamos Middle School, the Teen Center and the Youth Activity Center. Meals are not taken to the elementary schools, since they participate in a federal lunch program, he said. A call from a volunteer at the Los Alamos High School administration office started the program.
Food is purchased and then the lunches are assembled, packaged and delivered to the different schools and centers. Based on input they have received, principals, assistant principals and guidance counselors determine which students are in need of a meal and lunches are given to those who ask for one.
The program is called Aaron’s Kids in honor of runner and advocate for young people Aaron Goldman.
“He had a heart as big as the outdoors for kids,” Little said. When Goldman died, Little asked Goldman’s wife if the program could be named after him and she said yes.
Initially, the program only delivered lunches to the high school but has been expanded to four locations, Little said. Weekly, Little delivers about 100 meals. A typical lunch will include a juice drink, a package of peanuts, canned fruit, a breakfast bar and a main dish such as mac n’ cheese or a cup of noodles.
There is an effort to balance what students are willing to eat and what is healthy, Little said. Little is currently working to partner with the Food Depot of Santa Fe to provide fresh fruit in the sack lunches.
One of the participants in the program, the Teen Center, is grateful for the program. Assistant Director George Marsden said on average, 15-20 lunches are eaten a week at the center. Being able to eat lunch has a big impact on teenagers’ day, Madsen said.
“Certainly for teenagers, if they are not getting lunch during the day, you can probably shoot any focus on school during the afternoon. It makes a big difference in academics.”
If kids are asking for a lunch, usually they really need it, Marsden said.
This year, between $7,500 and $10,000 is expected to be spent on food by Aaron’s Kids. Funding for the program has come from small grants, individual contributions, the Methodist Church, the local Kiwanis club and other sources. Additionally, Smith’s Food and Drug in White Rock donated plastic bags to deliver the food. While Little is happy to get this support, he is saddened the program is needed at all.
“I feel like it’s a tragedy that a community with as high of an average income as this one that we have kids who are hungry,” Little said. “This is something we should be talking about in the community.”
Those interested in donating money to Aaron’s Kids may write checks to the First United Methodist Church. Write Aaron’s Kids on the memo line. Drop checks off at the church at 715 Diamond Dr. in Los Alamos.