EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — When school lets out for the summer, children across the state are at risk of going hungry without access to free or reduced-price meals.
But officials and agencies are working to increase the number of nutritious meals served to food-insecure children.
A new report, “Food for Thought: The State of Summer Meals in New Jersey,” showed the Community FoodBank of New Jersey, Southern Branch, increased its average daily participation in the summer meals program from 906 children on an average day in July 2017 to 1,077 in 2018, a difference of 19%.
“Our concentration, moving forward, is not just about meal distribution, but healthy meal distribution and education,” said Renate Taylor, development officer at the food bank in Egg Harbor Township. “It is going to be a more pronged approach to feeding hungry children, not just filling them with food, but filling them with the right food with a concentration on fresh food and vegetables, and also education.”
Across the state, the number of children who received meals during the summer through the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program increased 38% from 2015 to 2018, according to the report.
“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 of Hunger Free New Jersey, which leads the child nutrition campaign.
Currently, Atlantic County has the hungriest kids in the state, followed by Cape May County, while Cumberland County ranks fourth, Taylor said.
Through SNAP-Ed, a federally funded grant program, educators will be available to teach kids how to cook healthy food that tastes good, she said.
“It’s really expanding the scope of food distribution, nutrition and education,” she said.
Other agencies that participate in the summer meals program in Atlantic County include the Galloway Township School District, the Greater Egg Harbor Regional High School District and the Pleasantville Recreation Department.