The New Mexico Basic Needs Consortium was one of 141 new commitments from stakeholders nationwide who stepped up as part of the White House Challenge to End Hunger and Build Healthy Communities announced recently by the Biden-Harris administration. The commitments include health systems, insurers, companies, non-profits, philanthropic groups, academia, and local officials.

WH Challenge logo

In March 2023, the Biden-Harris Administration announced the White House Challenge to End Hunger and Build Healthy Communities. The Challenge was a nationwide call-to-action to stakeholders to make commitments to advance President Biden’s goal to end hunger and reduce diet-related diseases by 2030—all while reducing health disparities. The Biden-Harris Administration worked with the CDC Foundation to cultivate the new commitments.

As part of its commitment, the New Mexico Basic Needs Consortium will pursue interventions on campuses throughout the state to improve food security, nutrition for everyone, and retention rates, especially for minority students.

“We are grateful that our expertise for ending student food insecurity is being recognized at the national level. Higher ed in NM has the intellectual power needed to solve a problem that has significant effects on the state.," said UNM Honors College Associate Professor Sarita Cargas. "The Harlem Globetrotters are also one of the White House partners so its way cool to be getting the same recognition (along with organizations like the Cleveland Clinic)!”

The New Mexico Basic Needs Consortium itself evolved from the UNM Basic Needs Project (BNP), an interdisciplinary collaboration of University of New Mexico faculty, students and staff to improve the basic needs at higher education institutions. In addition to Cargas, the team includes Drs. Coakley and Thomas from the College of Population Health, nutrition faculty Dr. Gonzales-Pacheco, Professor Land from the College of Law, Dr. Neel from the Dept of Speech and Hearing, and project mentor Leslie Byatt, director of Clinical Trials at UNMH. The BNP began in 2019, conducting some of the first research on food and housing insecurity in the Southwest.

After collecting two years of research data, the reports attracted attention from the New Mexico Higher Education Department. In 2023, a statewide assessment of basic needs security ensued with 27 participating institutions, including 17 two-year, seven four-year, and three tribal institutions.

That survey showed that almost 60 percent of New Mexico students recently faced food or housing insecurity, according to results released by the UNM Basic Needs Project team, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham Food Initiative, and the New Mexico Higher Education Department. A shocking 67 percent of those surveyed experienced some basic needs insecurity: food insecurity in the month before being surveyed or housing insecurity or homelessness in the prior 12 months.

Armed with the data from the statewide study, the NM BNC is on a mission to reduce food and housing insecurity among students also by 2030 in line with the White House initiative.  The consortium hopes to achieve change by focusing on education, policy, research, and solutions. That is, participating staff and faculty from colleges and universities across New Mexico are joining together in the belief that by pooling their efforts, sharing best practices, and presenting a unified call for resources their efforts will be more effective than by working in isolation. 

“The UN has a zero hunger by 2030 campaign, and the White House wants to end US hunger by 2030, surely we can end hunger among New Mexico’s college students,” Cargas said. “Not to mention the potential return on investment could be profound in terms of increasing graduation rates and the knock-on effects for the state’s workforce. 

For more information, visit the UNM Basic Needs Project.