Many New Jersey school districts have been offering free meals to all families during the pandemic. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture has relaxed rules to make it easier for schools to feed children during remote learning, including allowing districts to deliver meals directly to homes, provide meals at pickup or drive-through locations and deliver meals along bus routes.
Nevertheless, the number of free and low-cost school lunches served to children in the state — and the number of children served — plunged 51% from April 2019 to April 2020, according to a new report from the Food Research & Action Center. The number of breakfasts and children served dropped 36%. There was an even greater decline in afterschool snacks served (down 77%) and dinners (82%).
Adele LaTourette, director of Hunger Free New Jersey, listed transportation barriers, lack of awareness, food quality and limited pick-up hours as reasons for the low participation. “For this method of distribution to work, it has to be available at various times to accommodate the schedules of working parents,” LaTourette said. “We are hearing that many districts are only offering meals twice a week in the morning hours. This makes it very difficult, if not impossible, for working parents to pick up meals for their children.” She pointed out that many of those most in need are the families of low-income, frontline workers — child care providers, grocery clerks, delivery people — who must be physically present at their jobs and lack flexibility to pick up meals during the day.