By Lauren Wanko
Students at Hugh J. Boyd Junior Elementary summer school are chowing down on their free sandwich and snacks.
“I like the sandwich part because it’s my favorite,” said 6-year-old Adrianna Toler.
The Seaside Heights school participates in the federally funded Summer Food Service Program, which provides up to two meals a day — lunch and either breakfast or a snack — to kids who live in areas where at least 50 percent of the children qualify for the National School Lunch Program’s free or reduced-price meals and are enrolled in the participating programs. At Hugh J. Boyd Junior Elementary, that’s about 90 percent of the students. Social Worker Kaelin Cardone says during the school year, student behavior suffers when their bellies are empty.
“You can tell that they didn’t eat anything. They’re not energetic, they’re sluggish, they fall asleep. A lot of times they either come in hungry looking for food or trying to see what other kids have,” Cardone said.
“Children especially need to make sure they have the right nutritional intake. It has a direct impact on their ability to develop and learn,” said FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties Executive Director Carlos Rodriguez.
Rodriguez says during the summer months, more families struggle to ensure their kids eat enough meals every day.
“The FoodBank is serving one in 10 residents throughout Monmouth and Ocean County and we know 51,000 are children and this is just on a yearly basis,” Rodriguez said.
The FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties is a sponsor of the program. They provide about 1,200 prepared meals to 14 sites like day care centers and camps. The FoodBank oversees the delivery and distribution of each meal.
But the issue of summer hunger isn’t limited to the Jersey Shore.
Statewide there are about 1,000 sites that participate in the Summer Food Service Program, which includes 76,000 children. The New Jersey Department of Agriculture administers the program.
“All the statistics indicate there are a number of children across the state that are not getting the nutritional needs, and this helps satisfy that. Your nutritional needs don’t end after the school year. It’s really important because otherwise a lot of children would go hungry,” said New Jersey Department of Agriculture Secretary Douglas Fisher.
At the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, their nutritionist oversees the menu. On this day, students dig into a tuna sandwich on wheat bread, carrots, diced peaches and chocolate milk. Six-year-old Adian Bell’s favorite part of the meal?
“When I was drinking milk,” he said.
“It was so yummy,” said 5-year-old Reina Toler.
If only every kid could be this excited about eating healthy foods.