By Jesus Mendoza, Jr., Western Region Administrator, FNS
On August 14-19, my leadership team and I traveled to Guam and the Commonwealth of Northern Marianna Islands (CNMI) to meet with the territories’ leadership, superintendents and commissioners, that administer USDA food assistance programs. We discussed the challenges of transitioning back to pre-pandemic operations and how USDA could assist. We also wanted to hear and see what has worked well, so we could share lessons learned with other states and territories as they transition to post pandemic operations.
One of my favorite things to do while conducting state visits is seeing USDA programs in action. In Guam, we had breakfast with children at Ordot/Chalan Pago Elementary School and later stopped by Okkodu High School during their lunch period. It was great to see students enjoying the healthy meals the food service operators had prepared for the day! We also visited a WIC clinic, and observed operations at one of the local SNAP offices. We gained a better insight of how well programs are operating but more importantly, we got to meet the people that are doing the work on the ground!
The Governor of Guam, Lou Leon Guerrero, graciously accepted a meeting with us, and there we heard about the new Guam Relief Center that opened in July. The Governor encouraged us to visit the center and we did. The Relief Center provides resources for residents seeking to apply for or learn about all the assistance programs available, including SNAP, and much more. It’s a one-stop shop concept and it seems to be a very popular option for people in Guam needing assistance.
CNMI schools were not in session yet, but we did get a chance to see a new cafeteria at Koblerville Elementary School. It was great to see that students will have a permanent location to enjoy their school breakfast and lunch when school starts. The previous cafeteria and school were destroyed in 2019 by a typhoon. In addition, we met with the superintendent from the Department of Education, secretary from the Department of Community & Cultural Affairs, which administers the nutrition assistance program, and the health commissioner from the Commonwealth Healthcare Corporation which administers the WIC program.
Everyone we met in Guam and CNMI were both warm and inviting and I was pleased to be able to thank them in person for their dedication, commitment, and hard work during the pandemic to ensure that the community had access to healthy, nutritious food.