How to find summer meals for kids

Schools out and summer meals are in. Organizations across New Jersey are gearing up to serve fresh, healthy summer meals to children and teens in communities across the state.

To find sites, parents can visit the USDA summer meals sitefinder, text “food” to 97779 or call 1-866-3-HUNGRY. It’s best to check with the site before visiting to be sure they serve meals to any child, regardless of whether they are registered with the program

Funded through the USDA, these meals must meet USDA nutritional guidelines, which call for balanced foods that contain low salt and sugar and whole grains. This summer, New Jersey expects to have about 1,300 sites across the state serving meals to children and teens 18 and under.

Not only do these programs provide nutritious meals, many also give kids a chance to engage in fun, healthy activities during the summer months. Schools districts, local recreation departments, food banks and other community organizations act as summer meal sponsors, providing food to sites throughout a community and, often, neighboring communities.

The meals are served at parks, schools, pools, libraries, recreation programs and other places where children congregate in the summer.

Some sites require children to be enrolled in a recreation or academic program. Others are “open” sites where any child can go to receive free, healthy meals. At open sites, parents do not need to provide proof of income, residence or any other identification. They can simply bring their child to a site for a meal in their community.

Unfortunately, too few children and parents know they can receive these meals at sites throughout their communities.

You can help! The New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign has posted a local outreach toolkit, flyers and social media messages.

Please share these messages with your e-networks, post on social media and distribute flyers in your community.

Working together, we can ensure that no New Jersey child goes hungry this summer and that all children return to school in September with the nourishment they need to thrive and succeed.

Summer meals on the rise

More children are receiving summer meals, helping combat childhood hunger, according to a new report by Hunger Free New Jersey.

New Jersey communities served up summer meals to more than 103,000 children on an average day in July 2018 through two federal summer meals programs, according to the report, Food for Thought: The State of Summer Mealsin New Jersey.

That represents a 38 percent increase since July 2015, the report found. As a result, federal meal reimbursements rose to $12.7 million – a 71 percent increase since 2015.

“This is tremendous progress and means that many more children who rely on school meals will have a hunger-free summer,’’ said Adele LaTourette, director, Hunger Free New Jersey, which leads the child nutrition campaign.

She attributes the progress to a concerted effort by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign, and it many partners, to recruit more summer meal sponsors and sites and expand awareness of the program.

The New Jersey Department of Agriculture continues to recruit sites to participate in the Summer Food Service Program this summer.

“We encourage schools, municipal government and community organizations to participate in this essential child nutrition program to combat summertime hunger and help kids return to school in September healthy and ready to learn,’’ LaTourette said, adding interested parties should contact the New Jersey Department of Agriculture at (609) 292-4498.

Despite this progress, the national Food Research & Action Center (FRAC) recommends that states reach 40 percent of low-income children who eat lunch at school, compared to New Jersey’s 26 percent participation rate. If New Jersey achieved that goal, communities would collect an estimated $5.2 million more in federal dollars each year to feed hungry children during the summer, according to FRAC’s Hunger Doesn’t Take A Vacation: Summer Meals Status Report, 2018.

In the summer, family budgets are stretched tight when many parents must pay extra for child care and summer camps. At the same time, children do not have access to school meals, meaning that thousands of New Jersey children face hunger in the summer.

To fight summertime hunger, the United States Department of Agriculture provides funding to local governments, school districts and community organizations to serve summer meals to children. These meals are typically served at places where children congregate – parks, pools, libraries, camps and recreation programs, among other sites.

In July 2018, 127 summer meals sponsors provided meals at 1,357 sites throughout New Jersey, according to the report.

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.

Last year, New Jersey passed a law that requires any school district with at least half of its students eligible for free or reduced-price school meals to participate in the Summer Food Service Program.

Districts were allowed to request a waiver for this summer. Of the 127 districts affected by the mandate, 104 requested waivers. All but four were granted. By 2020, all districts affected by the law must participate as either a site or a sponsor.

Three school districts – Jamesburg, Clifton and Stem Civic Charter School — opted to become new sponsors, while 20 others will team with an existing sponsor to operate a site at one or more schools in their districts this summer, state officials said.

“We expect to see even greater growth in 2020 as this new law takes hold and expands summer meals to children across New Jersey,’’ LaTourette said. “We look forward to continuing to work with local and state leaders to ensure that every child has healthy food to eat, every single day.’’

To learn more, contact the New Jersey New Jersey Department of Agriculture at 609-292-4498 or visit our summer meals page.

NJ slips in school breakfast ranks

New state law promises improvement

New Jersey is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to providing school breakfast to low-income students, many of whom routinely face hunger, according to a national report released today.

The state dropped from 19th to 21st place in the Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) annual School Breakfast Scorecard.

Since 2011, New Jersey schools had made steady progress in reaching more hungry children through the federal School Breakfast Program, but in the 2017-18 school year student participation dipped 2 percent to 59.1 percent of students who eat free or low-cost school lunch, according to the report.

New Jersey schools are failing to claim at least $14 million in federal school breakfast funds – dollars the state’s taxpayers already send to Washington, D.C., the report found.

“This just doesn’t make sense,’’ said Adele LaTourette, director, Hunger Free New Jersey, which leads the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign, a statewide effort to expand participation in federal child nutrition programs.

“We have hungry kids. We have a federal program that provides money to feed these children a healthy breakfast. And still, far too many New Jersey schools fail to take steps to maximize participation,’’ she said.

The problem, LaTourette explained, is that many schools continue to serve breakfast before school – when most students have not yet arrived. By making breakfast part of the school day, just like lunch, schools can reach all children who need this morning nutrition to concentrate and learn. Known as breakfast after the bell, this approach typically involves serving breakfast in the classroom or another location during the first few minutes of the school day.

“When schools serve breakfast after the bell, participation skyrockets,’’ LaTourette said. “Many New Jersey schools have successfully adopted this approach, but many have stubbornly resisted, while others have rolled back programs due to logistical concerns.’’

A new state law promises to reverse this slide, she added.

Enacted in May 2018, state law now requires schools with at least 70 percent of students eligible for free or reduced-price meals to serve breakfast after the bell. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture has notified 99 districts, comprising a total of 237 affected schools, that implementation plans must be submitted by May 31, 2019. Schools must begin serving breakfast after the bell in September 2019.

Other states that have implemented similar requirements have seen participation skyrocket, receiving millions more in federal dollars to fight childhood hunger and ranking as best in the nation.

“We expect that the new school breakfast law will reverse our downward slide in serving school breakfast to students in need,’’ said LaTourette, whose organization pushed for the law’s passage. “We look forward to working with school leaders across the state to implement this sensible change so all New Jersey children begin their day with a good breakfast that can boost school success.’’

Despite last year’s setback, many New Jersey schools have effectively implemented breakfast after the bell, proving that this is a do-able solution to childhood hunger, said Lisa Pitz, outreach director, Hunger Free New Jersey. From large urban districts like Newark, Camden and Atlantic City to smaller districts like Bound Brook and North Haledon, school leaders have made breakfast after the bell work, Pitz said.

In fact, Newark ranked 4th nationwide in FRAC’s companion report, School Breakfast: Making It Work in Large Districts, with 92 percent of district students receiving breakfast.

Those districts that successfully implemented breakfast after the bell have fueled New Jersey’s rise in the school breakfast ranks from 46th in 2010 – the year before the launch of the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign, a statewide coalition that advocates for breakfast after the bell and other child nutrition programs.

“Leadership is key,’’ LaTourette said. “When you have a superintendent who recognizes that nutrition and learning go hand-in-hand and who makes breakfast a priority, you have a successful school breakfast program. And that equates to more students beginning their school day ready to learn.’’

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About the report

The Food Research and Action Center measures the reach of the federal School Breakfast Program by comparing the number of low-income children that participate in breakfast to those that participate in school lunch. The School Breakfast Scorecard contains national and state data for breakfast participation. School Breakfast – Making it Work in Large School Districts surveys large urban school districts across the country on school breakfast participation rates and policies during the school year. Both reports are available at www.frac.org.

Hunger Free New Jersey works to change policy and practice so that all New Jersey residents have healthy food to eat, every single day.