A growing number of New Jersey children are receiving snacks and suppers after school, contributing to their health and academic achievement, but thousands who could benefit from these meals remain unserved, according to a national report released today.
The Food Research & Action Center’s report, Afterschool Suppers: A Snapshot of Participation, found that the number of children receiving afterschool meals through two federal programs inched up 4 percent from October 2016 to October 2017, when nearly 61,000 children received a snack or meal on an average day.
Most of the growth occurred in the Child and Adult Care Food Program’s At-Risk Afterschool Supper and Snack Program, which was established through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
On an average day in October 2017, nearly 20,000 New Jersey children received an afterschool supper through this program – up 13 percent from the year before. At the same time, the number of suppers served soared nearly 26 percent.
“We are seeing more school districts and organizations opting to participate in the at-risk program,’’ said Adele LaTourette, director, Hunger Free New Jersey. “The program enables schools, community organizations and local government to serve free meals to children after school hours, supported by generous federal reimbursements.
“We expect to see this program grow much more as we expand our efforts through the New Jersey Food for Thought Campaign to focus on afterschool meals,’’ she added. “The campaign has achieved remarkable increases in school breakfast participation and we expect to realize the same results with afterschool meals. We have plenty of room to grow.’’
In fact, just 4 percent of New Jersey students who receive free or low-cost school lunch also received an afterschool supper in October 2017. Nationally, the report finds that only one child received an afterschool supper for every 19 low-income children who received a free or reduced-price school lunch.
FRAC, the leading anti-hunger organization in the nation, recommends that at least 15 percent of these low-income children receive this meal. If New Jersey were to achieve that goal, communities would collect an additional $3 million in federal dollars each year to feed hungry children, according to FRAC’s report.
“Far too many children come home from school to an empty table and may not get anything to eat until they go to school the next morning,’’ LaTourette said. “There is absolutely no reason for this when federal dollars are waiting to be claimed to feed these children.’’
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.”
The report recommended several strategies for reaching more children with afterschool meals, including:
- Switching from snacks to suppers or serving both,
- Recruiting more school districts to provide afterschool snacks and suppers at both their own schools and at community sites, such as afterschool programs or camps,
- Serving meals during weekends, holidays and school closures, and
- Improving meal quality.
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.