Local organizations to provide free meals to Montclair students over the summer
For the past two years, Montclair public school students have been eligible to receive free meals as part of the federally financed National School Lunch Program. This meant that each day, every student was guaranteed breakfast and lunch, regardless of need.
But once the school year ended on June 28, many students were left without that guarantee.
In 2019, 15.5% of children under 18 years old in Essex County lived in households that identified as food insecure, according to the state Health Department. That’s nearly one point higher than the national level — 14.6% — according to the Health Department website.
In 2020, 959 students from 738 families in Montclair were eligible for free and reduced-price meals, with just over half of those students taking advantage of those meals, then-Superintendent Nathan Parker told Montclair Local.
Current Superintendent Jonathan Ponds has not responded to messages sent to his district email address and office with questions about free meal opportunities for students, how many students qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, and if the district plans to continue covering meal costs for additional students.
To meet the needs of Montclair children and families this summer, local organizations are providing free meals for students.
The Montclair Public Library, in collaboration with Toni’s Kitchen, will be giving out brown bag lunches Mondays through Fridays from July 5 through Sept. 6, said Ruby Williamson, a tween and teen librarian.
Toni’s Kitchen will provide the meals, which will be available at the library’s main branch, 50 South Fullerton Ave., from noon to 2 p.m. The library plans to distribute at least 50 meals per day, but is prepared to increase that number depending on the community’s need, Williamson said.
“Children and teens in the community who rely on their schools for free and reduced lunch still need that support, even when classes let out for the summer,” she said. “No one should ever have to worry about where they are going to get their next meal, and we are hoping to fill that need, so that young people can simply focus on enjoying their summer.”
The meals will be served by volunteers from the Friends of the Montclair Public Library.
In addition to the free food they provide from their own facility throughout the week, Toni’s Kitchen will be working with local summer camps, tutoring and mentoring programs to provide free meals, but the details are still being sorted out, said Anne Mernin, Toni’s Kitchen executive director.
One of those programs is Project Oasis, a summer program organized by the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corp. intended to help eliminate the achievement gap for students of color.
A. Craig Dunn, executive director of the Montclair Neighborhood Development Corp., said he had reached out to Mernin because he was looking to build partnerships in the community.
“Sometimes people say, ‘We're doing this and we're doing this in isolation,’” Dunn said. “We’re trying to get to a place where it’s more collaborative.”
Montclair Grass Roots, a summer camp program based at the Wally Choice Community Center, has provided summer meals to children in need for the last 45 years. But this year, the camp has been postponed while the center is rebuilt.
The National School Lunch Program, which provided free meals to all students throughout the coronavirus pandemic, expired June 30. But on June 29, state lawmakers passed a bill — the Working Class Families' Anti-Hunger Act — providing free and reduced-price meals to families who are at 200% of the federal poverty level, as opposed to 185%, the current qualification.
The bill awaits a signature from Gov. Phil Murphy.