Summer leaves thousands of NJ children hungry
School is almost out for the summer in New Jersey and while many children look forward to getting out of the classroom, for hundreds of thousands of youngsters across the state, it means they no longer have access to breakfast and lunch.
"There are so many children who depend on school meals for food and they don't stop being hungry when school closes for the summer," said Cecilia Zalkind, executive director of ACNJ. "There are federal funding opportunities to provide summer meals, but our sense is that not enough communities are taking advantage of that."
In May 2014, 211,000 children received free or reduced-priced school breakfast, a jump from 136,000 children in October 2010, according to the 4th Annual New Jersey School Breakfast Report, which was released by Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) in September 2014.
As it is, participation in the free breakfast program for low-income children across the state stands at about 41 percent, so during the school year about 308,000 still were not receiving breakfast, according to ACNJ's report.
Part of the problem is the fact that many districts serve breakfast before school when children have not yet arrived. Some districts have adjusted and now serve breakfast after the first bell.
Participation in the free lunch program is much higher, at about 85 percent, because lunch is served when most children are in school. The number of kids receiving free or reduced-priced school lunch in 2013 was 396,286, an increase from 380,488 in 2012, according to data from ACNJ.
Summer meal programs can be run by school districts, by local governments or through community programs.
"The community has to know about it, draw down the funding and have something in place to feed the kids. In communities where it's working well, the summer meal program is usually connected to summer camp, a summer program or somewhere where the kids already are," Zalkind said. "I think for lack of knowledge or uncertainty that they can administer it, not enough communities with high percentages of low-income kids are actually providing summer meals."
Advocates for Children of New Jersey is working on a report right now that is due out in July that will look at specific communities that can do a much better job at reaching children with summer meals.
"The key is to reach the kids where they are," Zalkind said.