Summer solace for hungry kids

Food Bank of South Jersey seeks sites for Summer Meals Program

More than 57,000 children face food insecurity in South Jersey. During the school year, meal programs are in place to help fill these hungry bellies, but when school’s out for summer, a nutritious meal may not be as easy to find.

This is where the Food Bank of South Jersey steps in.

“Six years ago, we came to find out that children in our area get meals at schools, but when school is out in the summertime, they don’t have the regular access to two meals a day,” Food Bank of South Jersey COO Joe Njoroge said.

After talking to the state and finding out about its Summer Food Service Program, the FBSJ sponsored its first Summer Meals Program, providing two filling and nutritious meals a day to hungry children.

It started small at first, feeding about 1,000 children in its first summer. Last year, the program served almost 4,000 kids. This year, the goal is even more.

“We have a goal of 8,000. We want to double the program,” Njoroge said. “It truly does fill a need.”

Of course, the FBSJ can’t distribute meals to 8,000 children alone, and it is seeking sites in Camden, Burlington, Gloucester and Salem counties to serve as distribution points for the Summer Meals Program.

This year’s program will run from June 12 to Sept. 1, and meals are offered Monday to Friday, typically breakfast and lunch. Serving as a site for meal distribution is free, just as the program is free for children. Once the site signs up, the food bank will provide training. During the summer, a staff member will ensure all meals arrive on time and that everything is fresh and nutritious.

Locations can include schools, day camps, libraries, daycare centers, vacation Bible schools and more.

“Anywhere where children congregate,” Njoroge said. “We’re trying to work with any places that have children there, even for a few hours.”

The FBSJ even has a mobile dining room, which can stop by places such as parks and playgrounds to serve children their meal.

Oaks Integrated Care in Medford has signed on for its second year as a Summer Meals Program site, giving the organization an opportunity to provide meals to the children it serves.

“Last year, we signed up so it could benefit the children that we were mentoring,” Shannon Gibson, director of the FLEX Mentoring Program, said, “because a lot of the children that we work with have been through abuse or neglectful situations and we were not sure if they would be provided other meals throughout the day. We knew if we provided them with at least one meal, they would have something in their stomachs.”

In addition to needing sites for the Summer Meals Program, the food bank is also in need of volunteers.

“We prepare upward of 3,000 meals a day, and this year will be even more. We definitely need volunteers to do this,” Njoroge said. “We cannot run this program without volunteers. And for those who cannot volunteer, but can give to the program — we appreciate that very much.”

Donations can be made specifically for the Summer Meals Program, and Njoroge said 90 cents of every dollar donated are used to feed hungry children.

Njoroge stressed being a Summer Meals Program site is free, and he encourages anyone who knows of a good site to contact the FBSJ.

“Food should be the last thing kids are worrying about in the summertime,” Njoroge said.

To volunteer to be a site for the FBSJ Summer Meals Program or for more information, visit www.foodbanksj.org/summermeals. To volunteer, visitwww.foodbanksj.org. Children looking to take advantage of the Summer Meals Program can do so on the FBSJ website, where there’s a link for enrollment into the program. An app will also be out soon to alert users to the nearest Summer Meals Program site.