FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 14, 2016
Contact: Nancy Parello|(908) email@example.com
When school’s out, hunger moves in for NJ kids
Meals to be offered at a growing number of sites across the state
With New Jersey schools about to let out for the summer, homework worries disappear but hunger becomes an unwelcome companion for many of the 400,000 children who rely on school meals during the academic year.
The federal summer meals program aims to fill that nutritional gap and, this summer, New Jersey children should have more summer meals options. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture, along with state and community partners, has been working to increase the number of sites offering meals in communities across New Jersey. State officials estimate that more than 1,200 sites will be open, up from about 1,100 sites last year.
The meals are offered at places where children congregate during the summer, including parks, schools, pools, recreation programs and other community sites.
“Our staff has been working diligently to increase the number of summer meals sites, especially in communities with high child poverty,” said New Jersey Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher. “We know the program is effective in preparing students for return to school in September.”
In July 2015, New Jersey’s summer meals programs reached just 18.5 percent of the roughly 427,000 children who received free- or reduced-price school lunch during the 2014-15 school year, according to a new national report released today by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC).
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 $7.26 million more federal dollars each year to fight childhood hunger, according to the report, Hunger Doesn’t Take A Summer Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report.
“With the commitment of community organizations and local leaders, New Jersey is expected to make progress this summer in serving summer meals to more children,” said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of Advocates for Children of New Jersey, co-leader of the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign. “But we still have a long way to go before all children at risk of hunger are receiving the summertime nutrition they need to return to school healthy and ready to learn.”
To help spread awareness of the availability of summer meals, The NJ Food for Thought Campaign has launched a statewide effort to inform parents of this critical nutritional assistance, said Adele LaTourette, executive director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition and campaign co-leader.
“The campaign’s many partners, including New Jersey’s major education groups, food banks and other anti-hunger advocates, are getting the word about through their networks, social and traditional media and local outreach,” LaTourette said. “We encourage people to visit njsummermeals.org for outreach tools and other information about summer meals.”
Cities across New Jersey, including Bridgeton, Atlantic City, Plainfield and Trenton, among others, are planning expansion of their summer meals sites this summer. In addition, many communities, including Newark, East Orange and Bridgeton, are planning community kick-off events over the next few weeks.
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 said.
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.
“We know that many children, unfortunately, lack proper nutrition in the summer months when school is out," said Rose Acerra, president-elect of the New Jersey Parent Teacher Association (NJPTA) and a Food for Thought campaign partner. "That's why we are calling on all of our parent leaders to help spread the word to other parents about the availability of summer meals in their communities."
“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 grow and be healthy during the summer months.”
For more information, visit www.njsummermeals.org.
View FRAC's report.
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 more children across New Jersey.