Responding to the urgent need brought on by the COVID-19 public health crisis, more New Jersey schools, organizations and communities are offering free summer meals for children this summer.

An estimated 2,300 sites, from parks and camps to schools and housing developments, are taking advantage of federal child nutrition programs in summer 2020, according to statistics from the state Department of Agriculture. That's an increase in sites of nearly 70% since last summer.

"It's all grab-n-go. It's all being very safely done," said Adele LaTourette, director of Hunger Free New Jersey. "Many sites are going to be offering several days' worth of meals at one time."

LaTourette said many districts continued to serve meals to students when in-person instruction was suspended due to the pandemic. Food pantries and soup kitchens can't keep up with demand caused by the health emergency, and communities are stepping up to fill the gap, LaTourette said.

"They're saying, 'We need to keep doing this service. We see hungry families, we see hungry kids, and we want to make sure that they get fed throughout the summer months,'" she said.

Enrollment is not necessary at most food-distribution sites, and families at most sites won't be asked for identification to receive service.

"It's always best to call ahead and ask what the rules and regulations are for that site," LaTourette said.

Check here for a meal site near you. The closest site can also be determined by texting "food" to 877-877, or by calling 1-866-3HUNGER.

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