Are We There Yet?

What are you doing this summer?

Chances are you’ve been asked this question recently. Whether you’re off from school, taking a break from the office, or just thinking wistfully about a weekend down the shore, you probably have been looking forward to summer in New Jersey. For many families in Bergen and Passaic counties, they will spend their summer looking for ways to feed their children. The truth about summer hunger is that many families, whose kids rely on free or reduced-priced school breakfast and lunch, must find ways to replace 10 meals a week, in an already stressed budget.

Families turn to food pantries, like Center for Food Action to help fill the gap and put a strain on the system. Food banks and pantries receive fewer donations over summer months, making it harder to help families when they need help most. Exciting new programs now exist to provide free lunch to kids under 18 in communities with a high percentage of low-income families.

We recently sat down with Hunger Free New Jersey’s Adele LaTourette and Lisa Pitz to talk about the new State and Federal Summer Food program designed to provide access to free lunch during the summer for any child who receives free or reduced-price school meals.

Q. There has been a lot of press lately about free summer lunches in New Jersey. Are we done, have we solved summer hunger?
“We wish we could say “yes”. According to FRAC (Food Research and Action Center), the highest level across the nation is at 40%,” said LaTourette. “We are at 26% and NJ is in the top ten levels of participation.”

Q. Why aren’t more children participating?
“There are not enough sites,” Pitz answers, “many of the sites are closed/enrolled sites, with limited capacity. There are many reasons we are not covering all eligible children,” Pitz stated.

Top 5 Reasons the Summer Food Program in NJ is missing 74% of kids

  1. Many summer food sites are closed sites and families must register in advance to participate. Many of these sites are at capacity.
  2. Summer food sites are incorporated into programs, such as a town summer camp and have registration fees. Even a small weekly fee may put the program out of reach for some families, especially those with more than one child.
  3. Transportation is a major factor, it is very difficult to get kids to free lunch sites.
  4. Limited awareness, families may not be aware that these programs exists.
  5. Schools had the option to “opt-out” this year, many did so that they could plan the logistics of having a summer meals program.

Q. How can people help?
In the next few years, there will be more schools offering free summer meals to kids, however, some of those challenges will remain: how do we get children to the food; how do we get the word out; how do we support families over the summer? “It’s a complex issue”, said LaTourette. “there is still a big role for food pantries to play, to help provide families with the resources they need over the summer.”

Join the fight against summer hunger and help CFA provide families in northern New Jersey with the resources they need to nourish their children.