Cumberland County needy youths will have 20 more places to get a free and healthy lunch this summer, courtesy of a group battling juvenile delinquency.

The additional sites in for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program resulted from a challenge undertaken in January by the Cumberland County Positive Youth Coalition, county officials said.

The goal, they said, was to find one new site in Bridgeton, Millville and Vineland. The coalition – whose members come from law enforcement, education, social services and faith-based and youth-serving organizations – established 13 in Bridgeton, five in Vineland and two in Millville.

“We are ecstatic that the coalition not only embraced the challenge, but basically hit it out of the park,” said Tracy Swan, senior project manager for the Walter Rand Institute for Public Affairs at Rutgers University. “Coalition members went above and beyond to ensure that hundreds of additional Cumberland County youth will be well-fed this summer.”

“We’re all familiar with the research that shows how important proper nutrition is to good health and learning, so it’s hard to overstate how important the in-school program is for these youngsters,” said Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly.

“But when summer comes and the school years ends, so does the access to these meals,” he said. “That’s why the … program is critical as a way to help children maintain good health and nutrition over the summer break.”

Federal statistics show that only 12 percent of Cumberland County youths eligible for the summer program participated in the program. U.S. Census Bureau statistics also show that 17.5 percent of the county’s population lived below the poverty level from 2009 to 2013.

Swan said another benefit from the new locations is that many of the sites offer different programs for youths.

“It is our hope that not only will these youth have a well-balanced lunch, but will also be engaged and occupied during the day, lessening any temptation to get into trouble,” she said.

Information about the Summer Food Service Program sites can be obtained by texting “Food” to 877-877.

That prompts a return text asking for the person’s street, city and Zip Code. That text is followed by a list of nearby food service sites.

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