Summer food for kids: Greater need, greater uncertainty due to COVID-19
It remains to be seen whether the COVID-19 public health crisis will put a sizeable dent in the number of New Jersey children who are fed through summer meal programs. While the figure has risen significantly since the middle of last decade, it's uncertain how many sites will be up and running to deliver food safely to food-insecure minors in the face of the pandemic.
A report issued Wednesday by Hunger Free New Jersey finds nearly 3.2 million meals were served to children in July 2019. On average, more than 101,000 children received a meal per day, representing a 36% increase since 2015. New Jersey communities reached 26% of children who eat free or discounted lunch during the school year, compared to a national recommendation of 40%, according to the nonprofit's report.
"While we have made great strides in recent years in feeding more children during the summer, far too many New Jersey communities are not reaching children most in need when schools are closed and children lack access to school meals," said Adele LaTourette, director of Hunger Free New Jersey.
LaTourette said this summer may present challenges for school districts and community organizations to provide food, given limitations likely to be in place for camps and other programs, and general concerns surrounding the health crisis. Due to a law signed in 2018, 128 districts are expected to begin serving food through the Summer Food Service Program this year because at least half of their students are eligible for free or low-cost school meals. Federal dollars reimburse meal costs.
According to the nonprofit, schools across New Jersey stepped up to serve meals to tens of thousands of students during the COVID-19 emergency school closings. LaTourette hopes to see that action continue when the regular academic year is not in session.
"I guarantee you the need will be greater this year," LaTourette said. "The need to feed children during the pandemic has been enormous."
LaTourette said a complete list of sites offering food to children won't be known until late June or early July, but parents can check here for sites already on board for 2020.
According to a Feeding America report related to the coronavirus, New Jersey is projected to see a 75% increase in childhood hunger in 2020.
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