September 2013 Featured Article
How Your Municipality Can Find the Resources to Make a Positive Difference in the Nutrition and Academic Achievement of Your Community's Youth
Over the past school year, over 400,000 New Jersey youth received free or reduced price meals through a national program that provides nutrition assistance to families in economically disadvantaged areas. However, according to the New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Division of Food and Nutrition, only 11% of those enrolled in the program statewide have access to these foods during the summer months.
In order to address this gap, the Federal Government also grants states funding to implement a Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). In New Jersey, the State Division of Food and Nutrition reimburses participating organizations for providing children in low-income areas with the supplemental nutrition they need to learn, play and grow throughout the summer months when they are out of school. Municipalities across New Jersey experience measurable impacts from this program as evident in the continued public school enrollment in the fall, classroom performance and general health of the student body.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture’s Division of Food and Nutrition administers a number of programs devoted to improving the quality and provision of food to New Jersey residents in addition to the summer food program, including year-round school nutrition programs and the Child and Adult Care Food Program. The division also administers The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) which provides federally donated commodities to six emergency feeding organizations statewide for distribution to hundreds of soup kitchens, food pantries and public feeding sites serving the state’s neediest citizens. In addition, the State Food Purchase Program provides state funds to food banks for the purchase of healthy foods for the feeding sites.
Operating for more than 35 years, SFSP is the single largest Federal resource available for local sponsors who want to combine a feeding program with a summer activity program. School-aged youth (18 years and younger) in economically disadvantaged areas including those already involved in the National School Lunch Program are eligible. In addition, the SFSP is open to people over 18 who are mentally or physically handicapped and participating in public or nonprofit private programs established for the disabled.
New Jersey’s SFSP reimburses participating organizations for meals served to eligible individuals. Referred to as “sponsors”, participating organizations apply as a receiving site and administrator of meals and/or snacks. There are two forms of reimbursement: operational and administrative. An organization may be eligible for both depending on the level of service. A sponsor may choose to prepare its own meals, set up an agreement to purchase meals from an area school or contract to purchase meals through a food service provider or vendor. If a sponsor site is equipped with a kitchen suitable for preparing meals or has access to a kitchen, meals can be prepared on location. If a sponsor lacks kitchen facilities, they may also purchase meals from a school or another public or private food supplier.
The sponsor’s location for providing meals is categorized into five site types: open, closed-enrollment, camps, migrant and national youth sports programs (NYSP). Open sites operate on a first come first serve basis in low income areas where at least half of the children come from families already eligible for free or reduced priced meals. Closed enrollment sites serve youth who may not live in an area designated as low income but are still in need. Camps already offering regularly scheduled food service for enrolled residential or day campers may also participate if there are attending children who qualify. Migrant sites primarily assist the children of migrant workers, and if the site has appropriate certification from a migrant organization, all children can receive free meals. Similar to camp sites, children enrolled in a national youth sports summer program can receive free meals as well. Most participating organizations may be reimbursed for up to two meals a day – lunch and either breakfast or a snack. Those serving primarily migrant children may be reimbursed for up to three meals a day. Residential camps may also serve up to three meals a day, but they are reimbursed only for meals served to children eligible for free or reduced price meals under the National School Lunch Program.
The effectiveness of the program depends on the number of sponsors who are able and willing to administer meals while school is out. Locally, approved sponsors include school districts, local government agencies, camps and private nonprofit organizations. In 2013 there are 98 organizations participating in the SFSP, with 1,100 sites around the state. Some schools utilize the SFSP to grow their summer based academic enrichment and other summer school programs. School officials find that students are more willing and able to attend these courses when given free breakfast and lunch. As a result, his students now return after Labor Day significantly better prepared for the next grade’s curriculum than in the past. Other schools deliver free summer lunches to affiliate sites on a daily basis. Such sites include churches, public school summer programs, various day camps and the City of Perth Amboy indoor and outdoor recreational programs, including six park programs. There can be measurable positive impacts stemming from the delivery of these services, and local leaders have indicated that they have observed greater participation by youth in various summer programs.
The annual application process to become a SFSP sponsor begins in March and continues through May. For registration information visithttp://www.fns.usda.gov/sfsp/how-become-sponsor or contact NJDA at (609) 292-4498 for more information on the program and to start the application process. The 2014 deadline has yet to be announced.
Published September 1, 2013.