Marvin Callahan is no stranger to childhood hunger. As a kid living in a low-income neighborhood in Albuquerque, Callahan watched his parents do everything they could just to get by. For example, Callahan attended Catholic school, and while the tuition charge was $29 per month, his mom sent in whatever she could spare — be it $2, $3 or $4. Despite this, he always had something to eat.
Sadly, food is something that many of his students don’t have. For the past 29 years, Callahan has been working as a first grade teacher in Albuquerque public schools, and every day, he sees his students come into school without having had a meal.
This situation is typical for many children living in New Mexico. For the past two years, New Mexico has ranked number one in the U.S. for childhood hunger. Sixty percent of the students at Comanche Elementary (where Callahan works) are members of the federal free or reduced price lunch program, and 6,000 of the 87,000 students in the district are homeless.
While the federal programs provide lunch to kids from low-income households five days a week, oftentimes, the meal served at school is only one that these children receive. Which is why Callahan took matters into his own hands.
For Callahan’s students, class begins with breakfast. Every morning, he asks his students who has eaten breakfast, and those who haven’t are either sent to the cafeteria or given a snack from the classroom closet. The kicker, though, is that all the money for the food comes out of Callahan’s own pocket.
“I look into my kids’ eyes, and I can see that sadness and apprehension, and the discomfort of not being their powerful, strong, engaging little selves,” he tells the Huffington Post. “Kids are boundless, but the ones who aren’t being taken care of properly with proper nutrition and rest… you can tell.”
Daily breakfast isn’t the only way that Callahan helps out his hungry students. About two years ago, he also started the backpack program with school counselor Karin Medina and other community members. Every Friday, 37 students are sent home with a backpack containing two breakfasts, two lunches and two dinners — enough to feed them for the weekend.
It’s not much, but the breakfast bars, oatmeal, mac & cheese, beefaroni and sliced turkey is more than the kids would probably have otherwise.
“It’s hard for me to go home some weekends when the kids are saying, ‘I don’t want to go home because I don’t have anything at home,’” Callahan says. “I just hope that when I get home and open my refrigerator and there’s food in there, I hope that they have the same thing.”
Thanks to this special teacher, that hope is a reality.