Summer meals

Children gather to eat lunch during the Galloway Summer Food and Fun Program at the Recreation Field on Wrangleboro Road. The program is open to any child that is able to find transportation to the site weekdays between 12:30 and 2:30.

More sites are serving summer meals and more children in New Jersey are taking advantage of them, according to the latest national report released Wednesday.

New Jersey jumped from 12th to sixth place nationally in the number of summer lunches served in 2017, according to the annual summer nutrition report by Food Research and Action Center, or FRAC.

“Childhood hunger is all too real in far too many New Jersey communities. Summer meals help to fill that gap when school is out,” said Adele LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition and co-chairwoman of the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign.

According to the report, summer is a critical time to make sure children have access to meals, because school, where many students receive free or reduced-price lunch, is out of session.

The report says in July 2017, New Jersey communities served nearly 1.5 million lunches to children and teens across the state, a 32 percent increase over 2016. On an average day last July, 101,138 New Jersey children ate lunch at hundreds of sites across the state.

In addition, communities in New Jersey are expected to host more than 1,300 meal sites this summer, a steady increase from years past thanks to a concentrated effort by the state Department of Agriculture and Food for Thought.

“The partnership between the campaign and the (New Jersey) agriculture department has been very effective in helping more communities to serve summer meals,” said Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey and co-chairwoman of Food for Thought. “But we still have a way to go before we can say we’re reaching all children who could benefit.”

While the state is making progress, the NJ Food for Thought Campaign notes New Jersey communities reached 24 percent of students who receive free or reduced-price lunch, but the national recommendation is 40 percent.

New Jersey has been taking more steps to address childhood hunger this year, most recently with a four-bill package to increase access to school meal programs.

The bills were signed into law last month and are intended to get more public school students enrolled in federally funded breakfast and lunch programs.

To locate meal sites, parents and other caregivers can text “summer meals” to 97779, visit the USDA sitefinder at fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks or e-mail SFSPCommunication@ag.state.nj.us.

Contact: 609-272-7251 CLowe@pressofac.com Twitter @clairelowe

I began covering South Jersey in 2008 after graduating from Rowan University with a degree in journalism. I joined The Press in 2015. In 2013, I was awarded a NJPA award for feature writing as a reporter for The Current of Hamilton Township.