Montclair groups offer summer lunch for kids in need
By ERIN ROLL
Summer for many children means beach trips, afternoons at the pool, summer camp and ice cream from the ice cream man. However, for the 15 percent of Montclair children who live in poverty or near poverty level, the summer months are a time when it’s hard to get three meals a day.
This year more organizations will be stepping in to fill the need in Montclair.
Many of those sites are places where children gather during the summer, such as parks, summer camps, libraries and community centers.
"Not only do these sites provide nutritious meals, many also give kids a chance to engage in fun, healthy activities during the summer months,'' such as summer camps, sports programs and library activities, said Adele LaTourette, director, Hunger Free New Jersey in a statement.
Center for Food Action officials said 1,300 sites in New Jersey will be serving meals to children and teens during the summer in 2019, with one in Montclair at Glenfield Middle School. Last year, about 103,000 children across New Jersey received free meals each day during the month of July, according to the New Jersey Food for Thought campaign. And the number of free lunch recipients throughout New Jersey has risen 38 percent since 2015.
In Montclair, 15 percent or 1,000 students currently qualify for free and reduced-price breakfast and lunch. Six of Montclair’s 11 schools are classified as Title 1 schools with students that come from low-income families.
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.
This year, lunch will be served to any child who asks for it, rather than only those children who are enrolled in the Grass Roots summer camp, said camp director Celine Choice. This summer, she anticipates that about 85 to 100 children will receive lunch as day campers or through the drop-in program.
Grass Roots also serves lunch at Glenfield Middle School during the summer months. Offerings such as roast turkey sandwiches, franks and beans, chicken and waffles, burgers and pizza are served. All meals are served with a side of fruit and vegetables, with milk or juice to drink.
In July 2018, Grass Roots served meals to 74 children a day on average, down 20 percent from 93 children a day in July 2017, according to CFANJ’s annual report.
In addition to programs offered through the Center for Food Action, there are other programs in Montclair offering summer meals.
The Montclair Public Library distributes brown bag lunches, provided by Toni’s Kitchen with help from the Partners for Health Foundation, to children during the summer months.
The program is drop-in, Library Director Peter Coyl said. Children do not need to register in advance, but the library advises that supplies of the lunches are limited. Children age 17 and under will receive a brown bag lunch containing a sandwich, fruit and a dessert. The lunch will be served from 12 to 2 p.m.
Last year, the lunch program served 2,867 free meals over a 10-week period, said Linda Welch, the library’s administrative assistant.
Toni’s Kitchen’s Summer Love program provides meals to summer camp programs for children during the summer months. In 2018, Summer Love distributed a total of 38,000 meals — including to seniors — during the summer months, said Toni’s Kitchen director Anne Mernin.
Toni’s Kitchen runs a “backpack” program in which children are given a backpack full of healthy, shelf-stable foods such as tuna, peanut butter, breakfast cereal and dried fruit to take home to their families.
Toni’s Kitchen works with area summer camps and other programs to provide meals to children in need, either preparing meals on-site or providing children with the backpacks.
The summer months are a critical time for food-insecure children. With school not in session, children do not have access to school breakfasts and lunches. Additionally, food banks often experience difficulty in the summer due to an increase in need, combined with a drop in donations as donors go away on vacation.
Nancy Parello, of Hunger Free New Jersey, which is affiliated with the Center for Food Action, expects the number of children in need of the free meals to go up over the next two years. The center increased its efforts in publicizing the free lunches and the sites where they are served. Also beginning in 2020, school districts with 50 percent or more of students qualifying for financial assistance will be required to offer meal sites during the summer months.
Hospitals and healthcare providers are joining in as meal sites or helping to publicize free meals. This makes a lot of sense, Parello said, since health and nutrition are closely linked. She also noted that more libraries like Montclair are getting involved with CFANJ.
To find open sites, parents and other caregivers should visit the USDA summer meals site finder at summerfoodrocks.org/sitefinder, text "food" to 9779 or call 1-866-3-HUNGRY.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated Nancy Parello's affiliation. She is with Hunger Free New Jersey, which is affiliated with the Center for Food Action.