Childhood summers are supposed to be carefree. But for many students in Burlington County, the last day of school marks the beginning of hungry season.
According to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, nearly 430,000 children in the state rely on the free or reduced-price meals provided during the school year through the National School Lunch Program. When summer begins, that program ends.
Less than 20 percent of those children were able to get nutritious meals last summer.
The end of subsidized lunches and breakfasts isn’t the only reason parents struggle to feed their families when classes end. Food pantry donations tend to peak during the holidays, so inventory is sometimes low, and while many children are eligible to participate in a summer meal program, they may lack transportation or their parents may be unaware such a program exists.
No child should spend the summer worrying about when he or she will eat again.
To that end, the Food Bank of South Jersey begins its annual Summer Meals Program at the end of this month, with locations throughout the region, including 27 in the county. Eligible children can get free breakfasts, lunches, dinners and snacks through Sept. 1.
“We recognize that when the bell sounds to dismiss school, and those children who rely on free or reduced-school meal programs are left without these critical resources, that signals our cue to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Food Bank President and CEO Val Traore said.
So-called open sites, which will serve anyone under age 18, are the Abundant Life Fellowship Church in Edgewater Park, the Apartments at the Mills in Burlington City, and the Eastampton Town Center.
The FBSJ folks do an amazing job. The Pennsauken nonprofit served more than 200,000 South Jersey residents in 2016 and has plans to feed at least 8,000 children this season, but it can’t do it alone. It is, as it should be, a community effort.
To help feed thousands of children who might otherwise go hungry, make a donation by visiting foodbankssj.org, or volunteer to help prepare, pack and distribute food for the summer program. Contact Gerald Tieyah, volunteer services manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 856-662-4884, ext. 160.
Every child deserves to have access to healthy food all year.
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