More NJ kids are getting summertime nutrition, thanks to strong partnerships growing across the state.
New Jersey jumped from 12th to 6th place nationally for serving up more meals to children during the summer when school is out and hunger sets in for many students who rely on school meals during the academic year, according to a national report released today.
In July 2017, New Jersey communities served nearly 1.5 million lunches to children and teens across the state – a 32 percent increase over 2016, according to the Food Research & Action Center’s (FRAC) annual Hunger Doesn’t Take A Summer Vacation: Summer Nutrition State Report.
On an average day last July, 101,138 New Jersey children ate lunch at hundreds of sites across the state, including parks, libraries, pools, camps, schools and other places where children congregate in the summer.
“This is great news for New Jersey children,” said Adele LaTourette, director, New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition and co-chair of the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign. “Childhood hunger is all too real in far too many New Jersey communities. Summer meals help to fill that gap when school is out.”
Despite this progress, New Jersey communities still reached just 24 percent of students who receive free or reduced-price school lunch. If New Jersey reached the nationally recommended benchmark of 40 percent of these children, it would collect an additional $5.2 million in federal dollars to feed hungry kids in the summer, according to FRAC’s report.
This summer, New Jersey communities are expected to host more than 1,300 meal sites, which have steadily increased over the past two years, due in part to efforts by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign to encourage local officials and community organizations to work together to implement or expand summer meal service. Typically, school districts, local government and community organizations serve as summer meal sponsors.
In addition to providing free, healthy meals, many sites 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, LaTourette noted.
To help ensure more parents know about summer meals, the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign and the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition have launched a statewide effort to draw attention to the program.
To locate meal sites, parents and other caregivers can text “summer meals” to 97779, visit the USDA sitefinder at www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks or e-mail SFSPCommunication@ag.state.nj.us.