NJ gaining on afterschool suppers

New Jersey communities achieved one of the highest increases in the nation when it comes to serving afterschool suppers to more students, according to a national report released today.

The Food Research & Action Center’s report, Afterschool Suppers: A Snapshot of Participationfound that the number of New Jersey children receiving afterschool suppers rose 22.5 percent from October 2017 to October 2018, when more than 24,000 children received a snack or meal on an average day. Only 10 states achieved higher increases.

The number of students receiving afterschool snacks also grew, rising 6 percent during that same time. In October 2018, 43,547 children received afterschool snacks through two federal programs – the National School Lunch Program and the Child and Adult Care Food Program.

“This is great progress and helps fight hunger for children who might otherwise go home to an empty dinner table,’’ said Adele LaTourette, director, Hunger Free New Jersey. “Federal child nutrition programs like afterschool meals give students the nourishment they need to be healthy and succeed in school.’’

LaTourette noted, however, that New Jersey still falls short of serving supper to the FRAC recommended 15 percent of students who receive free or reduced-price school lunch. With a 5.4 supper participation rate, New Jersey was below the national 6.2 average.

If New Jersey reached the recommended 15 percent, communities would collect an additional $19.9 million each year in federal funds for afterschool suppers, according to a September report by Hunger Free New Jersey.

Many school districts continue to serve snacks through the National School Lunch Program, primarily because it is easier to administer since they are already participating through lunch service. FRAC’s report found that 55 percent of New Jersey’s afterschool nutrition is served through the National School Lunch Program.

The problem is, this program does not provide reimbursements for suppers and does not allow meal service on weekends or during school breaks.

The Child and Adult Care Food Program, on the other hand, provides generous reimbursements for snacks and suppers served in both schools and community-based afterschool programs. Those meals can be served on the weekends and during school breaks, under this program.

“We encourage more New Jersey school districts to switch to serving suppers, in addition to snacks,’’ LaTourette said. “For many children, a snack alone will not ward off the hunger they face when struggling families are unable to put dinner on the table every night.’’

Under CACFP, any community with at least half of children qualified to receive free or reduced-price school meals can provide snacks and suppers using federal funds.

“We are leaving so much money on the table that could be used to feed hungry children,’’ LaTourette noted. “It just doesn’t make sense. While it takes some effort to implement the program, once it’s up and running, schools routinely report that serving supper helps address student hunger, which is a major barrier to learning.’’

Child Nutrition Reauthorization, currently being considered by Congress, provides an opportunity to invest in afterschool meals by streamlining the program to allow more New Jersey children to receive this critical nutrition, LaTourette said.

Increasing private and public funding for afterschool programs — including more investment of federal, state, and local dollars — would also help meet the demand for quality afterschool programs, which far outstrips supply in low-income communities, the report found.

In addition to providing good nutrition, afterschool programs also bolster academic achievement, provide safe places for children to play and learn after school and support working parents.

“The nutrition and enrichment activities provided through afterschool programs support both children’s health and learning,” LaTourette said. “We need to bolster that support by increasing the number of programs offering afterschool activities and suppers, and make sure they are affordable and accessible for low-income families.”

View the report. For more information about hunger in New Jersey, visit hungerfreenj.org.

The Food Research & Action Center is the leading national nonprofit organization working to eradicate poverty-related hunger and undernutrition in the United States. To learn more, visit FRAC.org,

Hunger Free New Jersey works to change policy and practice to ensure that every single New Jersey resident has healthy food to eat, every single day.

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