CAMDEN, NJ—The end of June means students across South Jersey will be starting their summer vacations. It also means that over 57,000 of those children could have trouble getting daily meals, according to the Food Bank of South Jersey.
To help solve the problem the food bank started its Summer Meals Program. On Thursday afternoon it held its Summer Meals KidsFest event .at the Wiggins Park Promenade to kick off the program’s fifth year
“We know that kids get food at school — free and reduced cost breakfast and lunch — but when the bell rings on the last day of school, you’re looking at summer with challenges of how do they get food,” said Joe Njoroge, FBSJ interim president and CEO.
The program's goal is to provide two fresh, healthy meals a day to children over the summer. In order to do that, the FBSJ partners with summer camps and other children’s programs and provides meals to them at no cost, Njoroge said.
“We go to wherever the kids congregate and we bring them at least two square meals every day,” said Njoroge. “We don’t want them to worry about food, we want them to just be kids and have a good summer.”
The program serves children in Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem counties. About 60 percent of that work goes to Camden County, said Njoroge, “Camden is a big component of that. We’ll make sure that no kid in Camden goes hungry, he said,
Last year’s Summer Meals Program provided 395,000 meals to 8,100 children across the four counties, however, Njoroge said the FBSJ wants to do more.
“Which is why we have an event like this, to raise awareness and to bring in more donors who can help us reach even more kids,” he said about the kick-off event.
Children from across the four counties were bussed for an afternoon of fun, and got the chance to participate in coloring activities and games with the program’s sponsors.
“We want to take away food security so they can focus on being kids,” said Merle Brown, Beneficial Bank vice president and director of corporate giving and financial literacy.
“We all know that children who are well fed can learn better, can work better and be leaders in their communities.”
“Healthy food access and health go hand-in-hand,” Suzanne Ghee, Virtua associate vice president of business growth and community health engagement, said.
Making its debut at the event was also the FBSJ’s newly renovated Bus Stop Cafe, a school bus that was transformed into cafeteria — featuring benches and tables inside.
“The intent of that is to go to places where it's difficult for kids to have a meal, and to be a dining room for them for the day,” said Njoroge. The bus currently serves only Salem County, but the FBSJ plans to use it in Camden, hopefully taking advantage of the city’s park system and parking the mobile cafe in a park for a day.