During the academic year, hundreds of thousands of New Jersey children rely on school meals for the nutrition they need to grow, learn and be healthy. In the summer, these same children often find themselves without enough to eat, as low-income families struggle to survive on tight budgets.

The federal Summer Meals Food Service Program, administered through the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, fills that meal gap.

Funded through the USDA, summer meals are free and require no application, identification or income verification from parents. All meals must meet USDA nutrition guidelines, which call for balanced meals that contain low salt and sugar and whole grains. This summer, New Jersey expects to have nearly 1,400 sites across the state serving meals to kids under 18.

Not only do these programs provide nutritious meals, they also give kids a chance to engage in fun, healthy activities during the summer months. Organizations, including schools, municipal government and community organizations, act as summer meal sponsors, providing food to sites throughout a community and, often, neighboring communities.

The meals are served at places where children congregate — parks, schools, pools, recreation programs and other sites throughout a community.

Some sites require children to be enrolled in a recreation or academic program. Others are “open” sites where any child can go to receive free, healthy meals. At open sites, parents do not need to provide proof of income, residence or any other identification. They can simply bring their child to a site in their community.

Unfortunately, too few children and parents know they can receive these meals at sites throughout their communities.

You can help!

The New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign has posted a list of summer meal sponsors, along with a local outreach toolkit, flyers, social media messages, sample letters to the editor and news release and other outreach tools.

Please download these resources and share with your networks, distribute flyers in your community, submit a letter to the editor and get information out through your schools.

Working together, we can ensure that no New Jersey child goes hungry this summer – and that more children return to school in September with the nourishment they need to thrive and succeed.

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