Summer Food Service Program Feeds NJ's Hungry Children
Cecilia Zalkind, President and CEO of Advocates for Children New Jersey, talks about the Summer Food Service Program which provides a solution to summertime hunger by offering free meals to children in the summer at schools, parks, libraries and other community locations.
"Welcome back. Keeping New Jersey kids fed is a challenge throughout the year, but the summer months are especially difficult when kids are no longer in school. Joining me to talk about this is Cecilia Zalkind. President and CEO of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. Welcome to the program. Thank you for having me. First, let's just set the stage. What do we know about the number of kids that are hungry in New Jersey right now? Well, we measure that by kids that are eligible for the free and reduced school meals. There are over half a million children in New Jersey who are eligible for free or reduced lunch. About 550 Thousand children. To me, that's a shocking number. It's almost one third of children in New Jersey. Advocates for Children of New Jersey puts out an annual kids count report that just came out in May. Talk about what we found this year. What are some of the positives? What are some of the challenges? There was a lot of good news in this year's report. We've made enormous progress on making sure that children who are eligible for school lunch and particularly breakfast get it. New Jersey has always been very successful at reaching kids with lunch. Less so with breakfast. We've made a lot of progress. More than 100,000 children everyday get breakfast now because of our campaign. That's very positive. What do we know that breakfast does for that child through the course of the day and through the course of a year? Well, research has supported the fact that it helps kids learn and it's interesting because since we've gone around the state with our Breakfast After the Bell campaign, we hear from everyone, Principals, supervisors, teachers who say "I noticed a difference immediately". Less behavioral problems in my classroom. Let's trips to the nurse. Kids who are better able to pay attention in class. It really does make a difference. A hungry kid is a distracted kid, right? Yeah. A distracted kid can't learn. That's exactly right. So, we have seen a lot of progress as you said during these school months. What happens in the summer to these kids? Where are we missing them? Where are the gaps? So, we know that hunger doesn't stop simply because school closes. Right. Right? It's less access for kids. But the federal government, the same department of agriculture that supports school meals also has a summer feeding program so communities, cities, towns, can access federal money to provide meals to kids during the summer and it can be two meals. It can be lunch and a snack. A snack..."