When school ends in June, so does the meal program that provides eligible students with free or reduced-rate breakfast and lunch.

But a new nonprofit group is working to help feed families in three area school districts with a high rate of children in the federal meal program. The food program, called Let Us Eat, Please, began last summer in Ventnor and this year plans to expand to Somers Point and Egg Harbor City.

Members announced the Somers Point program last week at the Dawes Avenue School. They said they will work with the school districts to identify and recruit eligible families. They also need volunteers to help distribute the boxes of food on one day every two weeks during the summer, and donations to help pay for it.

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Retired attorney James Cooper said the group hopes to serve at least 25,000 meals this summer.

“We know that many kids don’t get meals when school is out,” he said. He said larger urban districts, such as Atlantic City and Pleasantville, have government-funded summer programs that include lunch. But the smaller districts don’t offer summer school, and there are fewer options for the families.

According to state Department of Education data, almost 80 percent of the children in Egg Harbor City schools, and about 60 percent in Somers Point and Ventnor, are eligible for the school meal program.

Cooper said he was overwhelmed by the response and the gratitude of families in Ventnor last summer and wants to expand the program as much as he can each year. He said the group will buy the pre-packed boxes of food from the Community Food Bank of South Jersey for $7 per box. He estimates needing to raise $35,000 to $45,000 to cover all three towns. He personally has committed $6,000, and has other donations for about $10,000, so far.

Sample boxes of food included canned fruits and vegetables, pasta, rice, canned tuna, peanut butter, cereal and pancake mix.

Sydney A. Perkins, community education and recreation director for the Somers Point School District, said she runs a summer day camp at the Dawes Avenue School, so she will be available to help coordinate the food program. She said staff has said they will help.

“We see these children every day,” she said. “We know who needs the food and will make sure they get it.”

The Rutgers Cooperative Extension Service is also involved in the program. Last year, staff did cooking demonstrations of healthy meals that could be made with the food provided. Community assistant Ashley Austin said they will offer nutrition information this summer, too.

Egg Harbor City School Superintendent John Gilly said he would love to offer the program, but volunteers will have to be recruited to help distribute the boxes.

“It would be a great thing for the school and community,” he said.

For more information or to contribute, contact Ellen Gregory at 609-646-8441, ext. 1017, or egregory@eht.k12.nj.us. Donations may be mailed to: Let us Eat, Please, P.O. Box 3211, Margate, NJ 08402.

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