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New Jersey communities missing out on $6.6 million to feed kids in summer
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Nancy Parello | (908) 399-6031 | firstname.lastname@example.org
June 13, 2017
NJ ranks high for summer meals, but many kids still missing out
New Jersey communities could collect an additional $6.6 million in federal dollars if they fed summer lunches to more children, according to a national report released today.
While New Jersey ranked high for its breakfast service – coming in 3rd nationally – the federal summer meals programs in 2016 reached just 19 percent of children who receive subsidized school lunch, putting New Jersey in 12th place nationally.
For 2015, New Jersey ranked 8th for summer breakfast service and 14th for lunch.
The Food Research & Action Center’s Hunger Doesn’t Take A Summer Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report, also found that New Jersey increased the number of children receiving summer breakfast by 5 percent and summer lunch by 2 percent from 2015 to 2016. New Jersey communities posted the largest increase in August 2016, serving more than 316,500 breakfasts – an 18 percent increase over 2015.
“With communities and the state struggling to make ends meet, it is alarming that New Jersey communities are leaving more than $6 million on the table each year that could be used to feed hungry kids,’’ said Cecilia Zalkind, president & CEO, Advocates for Children of New Jersey. “While we commend communities for the progress that has been made, it’s clear that we can – and must – do more.’’
This year, New Jersey communities are expected to host 1,400 meal sites at parks, pools, school, libraries and other places where children congregate in the summer, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, which administers the federal program on the state level.
Meal sites have steadily increased over the past two years, due in part to efforts by the agriculture department and the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign to encourage local officials and community organizations to implement or expand summer meal service. Typically, school districts, local government and community organizations serve as summer meal sponsors.
“The partnership between the campaign and the agriculture department has been very effective in convincing more communities to serve summer meals,” said Adele LaTourette, director, New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition. “The fact remains, however, that the Summer Meal Food Service Program presents significant implementation challenges. We continue to push for federal changes that would simplify the program, enabling us to feed more children each summer.’’
FRAC recommends that 40 percent of children who receive subsidized school lunch should receive summer lunch. The additional $6.6. million in federal reimbursement is based on the difference between reimbursements received under the state’s 19 percent participation rate and what it would receive if it met the 40 percent standard.
For breakfast, the benchmark is 70 percent of children receiving subsidized school breakfast. Since New Jersey is already feeding more than 70 percent of children who eat breakfast at school, the FRAC report does not estimate additional breakfast reimbursements for New Jersey.
More children face hunger in the summer when school meals are not available to the roughly 428,000 children who rely on those meals during the academic year. The federal summer meals programs help to fill that nutritional gap.
In additional to implementation challenges, such as burdensome paperwork and difficulty finding quality food vendors, lack of awareness has also kept New Jersey from feeding more children, LaTourette said.
“It’s really important to get the word out and let parents know where sites are located, what meals are being served and when,’’ she said.
To help accomplish that, the Food for Thought Campaign has launched a statewide effort to inform parents of this critical nutritional assistance, Zalkind added.
A list of summer meals sponsors is posted on the campaign’s website -- njsummermeals.org -- along with a variety of outreach tools, including flyers, a toolkit and social media messages.
“We encourage summer meals sponsors, schools, local government and community organizations to use these resources to spread the word about summer meals,” Zalkind said.
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, LaTourette noted.
Parents do not need to fill out an application nor provide identification for their children to receive meals, according to federal rules. The meals must meet federal nutrition standards, which call for low-fat, low-sugar and high-grain foods.
“Childhood hunger only gets worse when school is out,” Zalkind added. “We need to ensure that all New Jersey children have the nutrition they need to return to school healthy and ready to learn.’’
For more information, visit www.njsummermeals.org.
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 working to expand summer meals to more children across New Jersey.
The Food for Thought Campaign is a partnership of the New Jersey Departments of Agriculture and Education, child advocates, anti-hunger and health organizations, statewide education associations and national organizations.
Advocates for Children of New Jersey