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.

New funds fuels afterschool, summer meals expansion


A new source of funding and technical assistance is now available to help summer meals and afterschool sponsors, sites and vendors serve up more meals to children across New Jersey. N

The New Jersey Child Nutrition Fund (NJCNF), created and administered by the Reinvestment Fund and supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, provides capital funding and technical assistance to child care providers, community-based organizations and food vendors who participate or seek to participate in the federal Summer Food Service Program and Child and Adult Care Food Program.

Through a rolling application process, funding will be available with grant awards ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 to fund program planning and additional grant and loan funds available as capital investment and implementation awards.Learn More.

Consultants sought to aid expansion efforts, Informational webinar tomorrow

The Reinvestment Fund has also issued a Request for Qualifications to recruit individuals and organizations who can provide technical assistance and industry-specific consulting services to the fund’s New Jersey grantees. Professionals with general business and project planning expertise, as well as specialized expertise as it pertains to CACFP and SFSP programs, are encouraged to apply.

An informational webinar is set for April 2 at 2 p.m. Click here to register for the webinar. RFQ submissions are due April 16.