For Immediate Release
Contact: Nancy Parello |Communications Director | Advocates for Children of New Jersey | firstname.lastname@example.org | (908) 399-6031
NJ Needs to Expand Summer Meals to More Hungry Children
Tens of thousands of children who eat meals at school lack access to healthy summer meals in towns across New Jersey, according to a report released today by Advocates for Children of New Jersey and the NJ Food for Thought Campaign.
In 2014, New Jersey’s summer meals programs reached only 19 percent of the roughly 419,000 children who received free- or reduced-price school lunch in the 2014-15 school year. The national Food Research and Action Center (FRAC) recommends that states serve at least 40 percent of these low-income children.
If New Jersey expanded summer meals to reach that goal, communities and school districts could collect an additional $6.7 million each year to fight childhood hunger, according to FRAC.
“Hunger doesn’t stop when school is out,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, which co-leads the NJ Food for Thought Campaign. “We need to do better at ensuring that all New Jersey children have the nutrition they need to grow and be healthy during the summer months.”
Although these meals are available to all children in areas with high concentrations of low-income families, many communities simply do not offer summer meals. In fact, 67 New Jersey school districts with high concentrations of low-income children offer no summer meals.
This is especially concerning in light of the substantial increase in child poverty in New Jersey over the past five years, with 17 percent of all children living in families earning below the meager federal poverty line of about $23,500 for a family of four in 2013. This is up from 13 percent in 2009, according to U.S. Census data.
The report was released at the Municipal Alliance Prevention Summer Day Camp at the James J. Flynn School in Perth Amboy and helped to kick off the city’s summer meals program.
“In 2012, we were recognized as a national model program by the United States Department of Agriculture for distributing record-high lunches to the children and teens of Perth Amboy,” said Perth Amboy Mayor Wilda Diaz. “We have continued to significantly increase our nutritious meal distribution to more than 60,000 meals in 2014 in 38 sites throughout the city.”
Providing summer meals does present certain logistical challenges to communities, including:
- Start-up paperwork
- Meeting stringent federal meal service, accounting and program operation requirements
- Building programs that attract a consistent number of children each day during the summer months
These logistical challenges can be met, however, resulting in more children having the nutrition they need to stay healthy during the summer months, summer meal sponsors say. In fact, sponsors across New Jersey routinely navigate the logistics of providing children with meals during the summer.
“The Summer Food Service Program provides nutritious meals to children in economically disadvantaged areas during the summer months when school is out,’’ said Rose Tricario, director, Division of Food and Nutrition in the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. “The Division of Food and Nutrition conducts outreach and provides support for communities and organizations administering the program.”
The report made several recommendations, including:
- Team up to provide summer meals. Municipalities, boards of education and community organizations in high-need, low-usage communities should work together to identify a summer meals sponsors and sites and partner to meet the logistical challenges of implementing such a program, with help from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.
- Improve coordination among programs serving similar populations of children to reduce duplicative services and build stronger summer meals programs that can feed more hungry children.
- Implement innovative strategies to ensure high participation. For example, the City of Perth Amboy has paired its summer meals program with a literacy program in its public schools. These types of creative approaches can ensure more children receive the nutrition they need during the summer months.
- Support changes to federal law. The federal rules governing the Summer Meals Service Program can be onerous for sponsors. The bi-partisan Summer Meals Act, S-613, would make it easier for sites to serve meals, expand the program outside of the summer months for non-school sponsors and allow sponsors to serve a maximum of three rather than two meals a day. State and local advocates should work with state officials, legislators, Congressional representatives and federal officials to ensure Congress enacts this legislation, the report said.
The NJ Food for Thought Campaign is a coalition of education and anti-hunger organizations, child advocates, state agencies and national organizations. The campaign has successfully increased student participation in the federal School Breakfast Program and is now working to expand summer meals to children across New Jersey.
“We are hopeful that this report will begin conversations in communities across New Jersey so that next summer we will feed more children in need of nutrition during the summer,” said Adele LaTourette, executive director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition and a co-leader of the NJ Food for Thought Campaign. “Reducing childhood hunger should be a priority for all of us.”
View the full report.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey is a statewide, non-profit, non-partisan child action and research organization dedicating to ensuring that every child has the chance to grow up safe, healthy and educated.
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