Of New Jersey children receiving a subsidized school lunch, just 19 percent benefited from the federal summer meals program last year, according to the “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Summer Vacation: Summer Nutrition Status Report” released today by the Food Research and Action Center.
The state ranked a relatively high 12th place nationally, but still fed summer lunches to a significantly smaller percentage of children than the goal set by FRAC. New Jersey also left $6.7 million in federal dollars on the table by not providing summer meals to more students.
Many New Jersey children face hunger in the summer when school meals are not available to the roughly 428,000 children who rely on getting breakfast or lunch or both at school during the academic year.
To reach the FRAC goal of providing summer meals to 40 percent of those getting subsidized school meals, New Jersey would have to feed an additional 90,000 children. Last July, the state served almost 81,000 children summer meals on an average day.
Still, New Jersey fed about 2 percent more children last summer than in July 2015, boosting its ranking from 14th place to 12th and bucking an overall decline nationally — nearly 5 percent fewer children got summer meals in 2016 than the year before. The state also increased the number of sites offering summer meals by nearly 22 percent.
“While we commend communities for the progress that has been made, it’s clear that we can — and must — do more,’’ said Cecilia Zalkind, president and CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey.
This year, the state Department of Agriculture estimates New Jersey will have 1,400 meal sites at parks, pools, schools, libraries, and other places where children congregate in the summer. Meal sites have steadily increased over the past two years, due in part to efforts by the department and the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign. Typically, school districts, local governments, and community organizations serve as meal sponsors.