A new report finds the Garden State is heading in the wrong direction when it comes to getting after-school suppers to school children.

Adele LaTourette, the director of Hunger Free New Jersey, described the Food Research & Action Center report as alarming because New Jersey saw the steepest drop in the country in the number of children receiving after-school meals.

LaTourette said what is even more disturbing is the 21% decline in child participation took place before the pandemic, “so it’s really our concern that it’s highly likely that we’re reaching fewer children.”

She noted with so many people losing their jobs during the health emergency, “there are more hungry children across the state of New Jersey, so we really need to strengthen all the programs that we have and make sure they’re in place to serve children.”

LaTourette pointed out the U.S. Department of Agriculture has relaxed rules during the pandemic to make is easier for schools, local governments and community groups to serve federally funded after-school suppers and snacks.

The problem? “We don’t have after-school programs," she said. "They’re not operating.”

She said most programs still operating are doing so remotely with no means to serve food.

The report notes New Jersey ranked 21st in the nation for supper service in 2019, down from 17th the previous year.

LaTourette said after-school nutrition programs play a key role in not only reducing hunger, but also in supporting student enrichment programs.

The Food Research & Action Center has been working to eradicate poverty-related hunger in the United States for 50 years. Hunger-Free New Jersey is the state’s leading nonprofit advocacy group working to make sure all Garden State residents have enough to eat.

You can contact reporter David Matthau at David.Matthau@townsquaremedia.com