In the small rural communities in the San Miguel municipality there are no daycare centers. This is primarily because the mothers do not have “outside” employment; they stay at home to care for their children, although some do participate in cottage industry activities. After around eight months of age, the children are fed essentially the same diet as the rest of the family.
For 35 years, Feed the Hungry San Miguel has provided a much-needed service for many of the poorest rural communities in San Miguel de Allende. Over that time, we have observed that many of the children enter school already undernourished—and to some extent underdeveloped—because of impoverished conditions in the home and nutritional deficiencies related to a lack of vitamins and minerals. This is why we launched a new initiative to provide sustenance for children who have been weaned but are not yet in school; typically, eight months old to four or five years old. We are committed to helping this very vulnerable population during this important growth and development period, because poor nutrition in a child’s early years can manifest itself in a myriad of health and cognitive disorders.
In 2019 the program was inaugurated in the most disadvantaged community that we serve, Plan Juarez. It is an indigenous Chichimeca village 90 minutes driving time from our warehouse. On the first day, 9 mothers and their 16 children, ages 1 to 4, walked a mile or more to the school, where both mothers and children enthusiastically enjoyed a hot, healthy meal. It is so fulfilling knowing that we are fueling the children’s bodies and brains during these critical formative years.
As Feed the Hungry can only provide meals on school days, the mothers were also asked to attend nutrition-based cooking classes so that the program is sustainable—they can follow our guidelines and menus in the home as well. Since the start of the pandemic and the inevitable closing of our school kitchens, the participating families receive bags of food twice a month through our Feed the Families Emergency response program.
In the first half of 2021, with the support of private foundations, the Early Childhood Nutrition Program expanded to the communities of La Palmilla, Pantoja, and Montecillo de Nieto. Three more communities anxiously wait to be added to the program before the end of 2021. These are Clavellinas, Nuevo Pantoja Kinder, and the Emiliano Zapata school in Ejido de Tirado.
The Early Childhood Nutrition program is directed by head chef, Valentin Patlan, and supported by nutritionist Liliana Granados and chef Paola del Carmen Sanabria. The team is responsible for gathering initial data from a specific community where moms and babies have been identified and previously interviewed. The nutritionist weighs and measures each child, delivers a diagnosis, and in the case of malnutrition, the team schedules personalized visits to homes to learn more about their family eating habits. The chefs design menus that the families are able to prepare within their means. Depending on the severity of their nutrition deficiencies, the families will be given six to twelve months to work with the nutritionists and chefs and produce results that move the children out of malnutrition and into a healthy, normal range based on their age, weight, and measurements.