Center For Food

-Summer meals on the rise in NJ

The number of children receiving summertime nutrition continued to grow last year, while federal dollars flowing into New Jersey communities to feed hungry children rose, according to a new report by Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

New Jersey communities served up summer meals to nearly 95,000 children on an average day in July 2017 through two federal summer meals programs, according to data provided by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. That represents a 27 percent increase since July 2015, according to the report.

In addition, the number of meals served also skyrocketed, growing to nearly 3.2 million meals in July alone. Federal reimbursements rose to $11 million – a 49 percent increase since 2015, according to data from the United States Department of Agriculture.

“This is tremendous progress and has been fueled, in large part, by a concerted effort by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign to recruit more summer meal sponsors and sites,” said Cecilia Zalkind, president & CEO, Advocates for Children of New Jersey, campaign co-chair.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture is currently recruiting sponsors and sites to participate in the Summer Food Service Program this summer.

“We encourage communities – schools, municipal government and community organizations – to participate in this essential child nutrition program to combat summertime hunger and help kids return to school in September healthy and ready to learn,’’ added Adele LaTourette, director, New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, campaign co-chair.

Since communities are reimbursed based on the number of meals served, New Jersey communities could collect an estimated $6 million more federal dollars each year to feed hungry children during the summer, according to the Food Research & Action Center, based on 2016 participation.

Family budgets are stretched tight in the summer when many parents must pay extra for child care and summer camps. At the same time, children do not have access to school meals, meaning that thousands of New Jersey children face hunger in the summer.

To fight summertime hunger, the United States Department of Agriculture provides funding to local governments, school districts and community organizations to serve summer meals to children. These meals are typically served at places where children congregate – parks, pools, libraries and recreation programs, among other sites.

In addition to providing free, healthy meals, these programs also offer an opportunity for children 18 years and younger to play together, engage in enrichment activities, hone their academic skills and be better prepared when they return to school in September.

“To effectively implement these programs, communities must work together to meet the logistical challenges,” Zalkind noted. “The Department of Agriculture provides training and technical assistance. While we’ve made progress, thousands of children still lack access to these meals. We urge community leaders and organizations to step up to meet the summertime nutrition challenge.’’