Mayoral Musings: Summer Meals

Last Edited: Jul 12, 2018 8:00 AM
Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly

The end of school, for too many kids, means the end of a regular breakfast or regular lunch.

The older I get, the more I find myself looking back at my younger self, with a heart full of nostalgia, picking through old memories and scenes, searching for...I don’t know what. Maybe that’s just what we do when we have more life behind us than ahead of us. One memory that sticks out from when I was a kid is the end of the school year and start of summer. I looked forward to those lazy days playing with friends. One thing I never worried about was getting enough to eat in summer.

But today, things are different and the end of school, for too many kids, means the end of a regular breakfast or regular lunch. Take a moment and let that sink in: The end of the school year means many kids won’t be able to depend on breakfast or lunch, meals that are part of the regular school year through the free or reduced breakfast and lunch program at their schools.

We could spend a month of Sundays debating why this is so—maybe it fits in neatly next to the fact that our nation has the highest poverty and infant mortality rates, along with the lowest life expectancy, among some 30-odd nations we consider peers. Regardless of why, the fact remains that once school lets out, too many kids don’t get enough food.

That’s why we have summer feeding programs and why we work our tails off finding sites that will serve as hosts for the program. The goal is to ensure that kids get enough to eat each day of summer until school starts up again. Notably, the food insecurity rate among children in Cumberland County is 17.9 percent with no less than 87 percent being income eligible for the free and reduced meal program. In Bridgeton, more than 5,000 children are eligible for the summer feeding program and countywide, the number is nearly 18,000.

How many children actually get the food and nutrition they need? Probably not enough. Over the past three years, we’ve worked hard to raise the number of eligible children receiving meals and we’ve had some success. In addition to more feeding sites, in my other role at Gateway Community Action Partnership, we’ve created the “Healthy Food Express” mobile feeding bus to bring nutritious meals to children wherever they are in the community and this has helped.

But we need to continue to get the word out and be proactive. Bridgeton’s students are already eligible for the summer food program by virtue of our economic numbers in the community so no separate enrollment is necessary, but that may not be the case for children in other communities.

One thing that makes sense would be to do automatic enrollment statewide for any child who comes from a household that receives SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families), and similar assistance programs that assume eligibility.

But locally, the goal remains ensuring that children get proper nutritious meals. For the summer of 2018, we have various locations in Bridgeton serving in one form or another as summer feeding sites, so chances are good that there’s one close to every household.

As far as general “walk-in” locations in Bridgeton to get breakfast or lunch, they include: the PAL Soccer Field Park (lunch only, 10 a.m. Mon, Wed, Fri), ALMS Center (breakfast 9 a.m., lunch 12 noon, Mon-Thu), Amity Heights Apts (lunch only 11:30 a.m., Mon-Thu), Bridgeton Commons Office (lunch only 12 noon, Mon-Fri), Bridgeton Library (lunch only 11:30 a.m. Tue, Wed, Thu), and Johnson Reeves Playground (lunch only 2:30 p.m. Mon-Fri).

For those participating specifically in school-based programs (no “walk-ins”), breakfast and lunch are available at Cherry Street School (breakfast 8:30 a.m., lunch 12 noon, Mon-Fri), Quarter Mile Lane School (breakfast 9 a.m., lunch 12 noon Mon-Fri), West Avenue School (breakfast 8 a.m., lunch 11:30 a.m. Mon-Fri), Bridgeton High School (breakfast 8 a.m., lunch 12:30 p.m. Mon-Fri), and Buckshutem School (breakfast 8:30 a.m., lunch 12 noon, Mon-Fri).

Most of the sites begin summer feeding schedules this week and will go until varying dates within the month of August. While I have listed sites in Bridgeton, many communities, including Millville, Vineland, and Salem, have their own locations and you can find them, along with dates and times, by visiting fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks.

Whatever we do, let’s ensure that children don’t remember summer break as a time of being hungry.

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