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Kids Don't Have to Go Hungry This Summer

Written for the United Way of Hunterdon County by Stephen Harris

Now that school is out, many children face hunger during the summer, especially those who rely on school meals during the academic year. Many families turn to New Jersey food pantries, which report an increase in usage during the Summer to replace the meals provided by schools. Nationwide, during the school year, 22 million children receive free or reduced-priced meals through the National School Lunch Program. When school is out during the summer months, however, only 3.7 million receive free or reduced-price meals through various programs. Many reasons exist for this disparity, including awareness and access to program sites.

Good news; there are over 1,300 locations across New Jersey offering free lunches.  In 2018, these locations fed more than 103,000 children a day according to the New Jersey Food for Thought campaign. During the school year, these children rely on the schools to provide these meals. During the Summer months, parks, pools, libraries and other places provide this service. As a side benefit, these sites also offer healthy activities including games and picnics.

The number of lunches served has increased 38 % since 2015. According to a study by Food For Thought, New Jersey received $12.7 Million dollars in Federal Funds, an increase of 71 % since 2015. Yet according to the Food Research & Action Center (FRAC), New Jersey only reaches 26 % participation rate among eligible children.  If New Jersey achieved the FRAC goal of 40% participation, communities would collect an estimated $5.2 million more in federal dollars each year. There has also been an increase in sponsor locations (127) in 2018 spread across 1,357 NJ locations.

In Hunterdon County, there were 449 meals/day served in 2018 at 9 participating sites.

Hunterdon County Sponsors


Sponsor (sites)



% Chg

BALifeCamp (Pottersville)  (1)




Salvation Army (Flemington)  (1)




Salvation Army/Tecumseh  Pittstown (7)




The USDA, which often reimburses sponsors for the cost of the meals, has guidelines for a healthy diet including low sugar and salt, heathy grains, fruits and meats. This way the children are not just getting fed, they are being given healthy meals.


To find a site, parents and other caregivers can visit the USDA summer meals sitefinder, text “food” to 9779 or call 1-866-3-HUNGRY or contact the United Way for assistance.


Food For Thought Study: