NEW JERSEY - A new report shows that more than 76,000 low-income children in New Jersey benefitted from the Summer Nutrition Programs on an average day last July, but that was a decrease of about 7 percent compared with the summer of 2012. That was contrary to the national trend:  5.7 percent more low-income children participated in the Summer Nutrition Programs in 2013 than in 2012 nationwide.

Summer meals reached only 18.3 of every 100 low-income children who got regular free- or reduced-price meals during the 2012-2013 school year. While that's better than the national average of 15.1, New Jersey's rank among the states dropped from 10th in 2012 to 15th last year, according to the report, Hunger Doesn't Take A Vacation, released by the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition in conjunction with the Food Research and Action Center.

“The decline in the number of low-income children getting healthy meals through the Summer Nutrition Programs was unfortunate because there are so many who need the assistance," said Adele LaTourette, NJAHC director. "When the school year ends, the 416,000 New Jersey helped by the National School Lunch Program each day lose access to school meals. It is in New Jersey's best interest to ensure that such children have adequate nutrition during the summer so they stay healthy, active and return to school in the fall ready to learn."

FRAC releases an annual report measuring the success of Summer Nutrition Programs at the national and state levels by comparing the number of children receiving summer meals to the number of low-income children receiving school lunch during the regular school year.

The FRAC report shows that summer meal participation nationally reached nearly three million students on an average day in July of 2013, up 161,000 children or 5.7 percent from July 2012.  This represents the first considerable increase in participation in a decade, providing welcome momentum for the Summer Nutrition Programs.

In New Jersey, nearly 82,000 low-income children participated in the Summer Nutrition Programs on an average July day in 2012, but the programs served about 6,000 fewer children last July. That's the opposition of the trend in school-year nutrition assistance. According to the report, the average daily participation in the National School Lunch Program rose by about 2,500 between the 2011-12 school year and 2012-13. The state lost 2 Summer Nutrition Program sponsors and 38 sites between July 2012 and July 2013.

Children in the state got 1.58 million summer meals in 2013, but that was about 100,000 fewer than in the prior summer.

While participation increased nationally, there is still room for improvement. Low participation means missed meals for children and missed dollars for the state. If New Jersey were to reach 40 children with summer food for every 100 low-income children who get school lunch during the regular school year, it would have fed an additional 90,000 low-income children every day in July 2013 and brought in almost $6.8 million more federal dollars to do so.

It’s not too late for states and communities to make a difference this summer. State and community leaders can follow the lead of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has launched an aggressive campaign to increase participation.  The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program Week (June 2 to 6, 2014)starts today,  and aims to raise awareness of the program.

“The national increase in summer food participation is good news, but Congress will need to fix some of the underlying barriers in the 2015 Child Nutrition Reauthorization to truly repair the Summer Nutrition Programs,” said FRAC President Jim Weill. “Congress needs to act to strengthen the programs so they are able to reach more low-income children, and help the program more effectively address hunger and meet increased need.”

The Summer Nutrition Programs, which include the Summer Food Service Program and the National School Lunch Program, should be filling the food gap for the thousands of low-income New Jersey children who rely on school breakfast and lunch during the school year to help keep hunger at bay. These programs provide free meals at participating summer sites at schools, parks, other public agencies, and nonprofits for children under 18. 

New Jersey families can find nearby summer meal sites here (http://www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/fn/childadult/summer_food.html) or by calling the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY. New this year from USDA is “SummerFoodRocks,” a free web-based application that features a site locator and search tool, and works on devices such as iPads, iPhones, Blackberrys, and Androids. Visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks  to locate nearby summer meal site near you. This app is available nationwide on June 2, 2014.

About the report:

Data for New Jersey come from the 2014 version of the annual report (http://frac.org/summer-food-participation-grows-across-nation)  released by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), the lead advocacy organization working to end hunger in America through stronger public policies. The FRAC report, Hunger Doesn’t Take A Vacation, gives data for all states and looks at national and state trends. FRAC measures national summer participation during the month of July, when typically all children are out of school throughout the month and lose access to regular school year meals. The report is available online at www.frac.org.

The New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition is a statewide network of more than 100 organizations working to end hunger in New Jersey through education, advocacy and activism. For more information, visit www.njahc.org.