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October 20, 2016
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For Immediate Release
Contact: Nancy Parello|(908) 399-6031 | nparello@acnj.org

Report: Communities can do more to combat childhood hunger
Thousands of NJ children face hunger

With an alarming 340,000 New Jersey children facing hunger each year, New Jersey’s schools and communities can do more to tap into federal child nutrition programs, giving children the nourishment they need to be healthy and succeed in school, according to a new report released today by Advocates for Children of New Jersey.

Click here for the full report, county profiles and district-level data.

New Jersey schools continue to make progress in serving breakfast to more low-income children, increasing 4 percent from 2015 to 2016 and 77 percent since 2010 – the year before the launch of a statewide effort to increase breakfast participation.

Not only has this progress meant more students start their school day with the nutrition they need to concentrate and learn, schools have also doubled the federal dollars they receive to provide breakfast, jumping from $48 million in FY 2011 to an estimated $98 million in FY 2017, according to state budget figures.

There are also signs that more children are receiving summer meals, with a 21 percent jump in meal sites, rising from 1,100 in 2015 to 1,350 in 2016, according to preliminary data from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture.

Still, these two programs, as well as afterschool meals, remain underused in many high-poverty areas, the report found.

“The good news is that childhood hunger is a solvable problem,” said Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO, Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “But it requires a concerted community response rooted in leadership, partnership and the willingness to do things differently.”

When ACNJ released its first school breakfast report five years ago, New Jersey was nearly last in the nation for its low number of at-risk children who received school breakfast. New Jersey now ranks 23rd nationally, thanks in large part to the efforts of the New Jersey Food for Thought School Breakfast Campaign, a partnership of advocates, state agencies and national organizations.

Despite this progress, nearly 302,000 low-income children did not receive school breakfast in April 2016 - - a number that has remained stubbornly high, Zalkind said. That is partially because more children are eligible for free or low-cost school meals, with that number rising 21 percent since 2010 – a clear indication that many more families struggle to put food on the table.
It is also because many school leaders and staff continue to resist the change to serving breakfast after the bell, despite ample evidence that this method is doable and effective.
When districts serve breakfast before school, many students simply can’t access the meal. Time constraints, the need to care for younger siblings, transportation, early start times and other issues prevent children and teenagers from getting to school with enough time to eat breakfast before the first bell rings.

In addition, many high schools have been slow to make the breakfast switch, even in districts where breakfast is served after the bell in elementary and middle schools. According to a recent ACNJ analysis of New Jersey Department of Agriculture data, just 12 percent of secondary schools were serving breakfast after the bell, compared to nearly one-third of elementary schools.

School leaders frequently cite cleanup, lost instructional time and cost as barriers. In high schools, the large size of the buildings is often an issue. These challenges, however, are easily overcome, as evidenced by the many districts that have successfully switched to breakfast after the bell.

Some counties fare better than others. In rankings also released today, Passaic County was top in the state for its high participation in school breakfast, while Hunterdon ranked last.
Beyond Breakfast
The success on the breakfast front has prompted the Food for Thought Campaign, led by ACNJ and the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, to expand its efforts to include summer and afterschool meals.
In partnership with the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, campaign partners are working in communities across the state to bring together school leaders, local government, community organizations and others to make a collective commitment to feed children and then work together to meet the logistics of delivering healthy food all year long.

National standards recommend that 70 percent of low-income children who receive free or reduced-price lunch also receive breakfast, while 40 percent should receive summer meals and 10 percent should have afterschool meals.

In 2016, 59 percent of New Jersey’s low-income students who ate school lunch also had school breakfast. In 2015 – the most recent data available -- 19 percent of these children received summer meals. Data are not currently available for participation in the relatively-new afterschool meals program.
“More communities are recognizing that they are missing critical opportunities to feed children and claim more federal dollars through these programs,” said Adele LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition. “When communities work together, they can meet the logistical challenges of serving meals, cover the costs and provide children with the nutrition they need to grow, learn and be healthy.”

The report, which was released at the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City, cites pockets of success. In Atlantic City, a community coalition was instrumental in bringing together local leaders to provide summer meals, while the school district is one of the best in the state for serving school breakfast and afterschool meals.

The report makes a series of recommendations for how communities can work together to create strong nutritional safety nets for children, including:

Switch to breakfast after the bell. School leaders, especially superintendents, must provide leadership and work with their principals, teachers, custodians, other school staff and parents to implement breakfast after the bell in all schools.

Convene local nutrition coalitions. Mayors or other local leaders should convene a multi-sector taskforce comprised of schools, libraries, parks and recreation centers, afterschool and summer programs, food banks and pantries, hospitals and faith-based organizations to work together to expand federal child nutrition programs.

Make summer meal site locations available early in the summer.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture must ensure the site locations are widely distributed and included in the USDA’s online directory in a timely manner.

Advocate. Community leaders should form coalitions and use data to convince school districts and city leaders to partner to expand child nutrition programs.

Click here for the full report, county profiles and district-level data.


Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) works with local, state and federal leaders to identify and implement changes that will benefit New Jersey’s children.  For more information, visit www.acnj.org.  Follow ACNJ on Twitter @acnjforkids and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/acnjforkids.

Advocates for Children of New Jersey

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