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Summer means free school lunches end for thousands in New Jersey

Summer means free school lunches end for thousands in New Jersey

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When classes end in June, so do free meals provided to eligible schoolchildren.

For 21 years Deborah Washington at the Pleasantville Recreation Department has been feeding children in summer through a program funded by federal government’s National School Lunch Program.

As a program sponsor, Washington coordinates meals at 26 sites reaching as far as Absecon, Egg Harbor City and Mays Landing. She estimates she serves about 4,000 lunches a week, and some sites also serve breakfast.

Efforts to feed children in the summer are challenging without a central place where children convene every day, like a school. Some local efforts have sprung up at libraries, churches and playgrounds to fill some of the void.

The state Department of Agriculture has been promoting expansion of the summer meal program. Last year about 1,100 sites participated. This summer 1,250 sites are serving more than 58,000 children each day — still a small percentage of the almost 430,000 children who get meals during the school year.

Most children locally are being fed as part of organized programs, often through a school or summer camp. Meals typically include a sandwich or the poular chicken nuggets, along with fruit and milk.

In Galloway Township, retired teacher Kim Gollub is in the second year of running the Galloway Summer Food and Fun program which is open to all children in the township and held at the park on Wrangleboro road.

Gollub has about 75 children signed up for the Galloway program, but on a typical day maybe 40 will come — fewer on hot days.

“I know there are more families who could use this,” Gollub said. “There are more than 1,000 eligible children just in the area along Collins Road.”

Talibah Parks brought her two nephews to give their mom, who is disabled, some time to herself.

“She came last year, too.” Parks said. “Every little bit helps on a fixed income.”

The Community Food Bank of South Jersey is providing meals to 28 sites in Cumberland, Cape May and Atlantic County, feeding about 1,200 children.

Richard Uniacke, vice president of the Southern branch, said they are trying to reach 2,000 children.

Washington said she tried bringing meals to Pleasantville playgrounds a few years ago but wasn’t very successful because children weren’t playing outside on sweltering hot days.

This year she and Karen Johnson from the Pleasantville library are piloting a program where the library hosts a free lunch once a week on Thursdays.

Librarian Kathy Gindin said that on the first Thursday 18 children signed up. Participation has increased through word of mouth, she said.

A group of churches in Atlantic City recently announced that they will offer meals in August after summer school programs end.

Contact: 609-272-7241

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