NEWARK, NJ - Thousands of Newark students now have access to fresher, more balanced afterschool meals.
Prudential Financial gave a $140,000 grant to Newark Public Schools to purchase refrigerators and coolers at 38 after school programs sites serving more than 2,200 dinners daily-- over 400,000 meals per school year to K-12 students throughout the city.
The Boys and Girls Club of Newark-Central Ward Clubhouse on Avon Avenue had a two-unit refrigerator and freezer that worked perfectly until it started to malfunction last school year. The freezer did not chill food properly and the refrigerator was at room temperature at best.
“I was trying to get someone to help us with a new refrigerator before it broke down leaving us with no food to our members,” said Roselle “Rosa” Arenas, who is the director of education, metrics, and outcomes at Boys and Girls Club of Newark.
Her heart was crushed when the center did not have meals due to a delivery miscommunication. Members at her center have told her that sometimes, they do not have a meal at the end of the day when they go home. “They look forward to our meals,” said Arenas, who worked at the Boys and Girls Club of Newark for 28 years.
Prior to receiving the new refrigerator the grant from Prudential provided, fresh meals were delivered at the onset of the afterschool programs to maintain ideal freshness. For ideal operations efficiency, Revolution Foods, the district’s afterschool meal provider, reduced the number of fresh food days to serve more shelf-stable, non-perishable foods like graham crackers or applesauce.
“Because of the infrastructure in their schools, a lot of the meals had to be refrigerated and less than fresh than we would ideally like them to be,” said Kirsten Tobey, co-founder and chief impact office of Revolution Foods. “Because they didn’t have refrigeration at many of their sites, we either had to deliver the food right at the moment of the program starting, so when you have 68 different locations, it gets difficult.”
Schools across the country have been providing lunch and breakfast for decades, but the supper program is relatively new.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 expanded meal reimbursement for afterschool programs in all states to provide healthy meals to low-income children. The federal government reimburses programs and school districts for providing a free supper to kids through the US Department of Agriculture food safety net program. Essentially, the program helps to feed children at no cost to families with a low burden to providers.
“We couldn't increase the variety of food on a daily basis because we didn't have refrigerators on some sites,” said Tobey. Refrigerators create flexibility with what they can serve to incorporate typical menu food groups: carbohydrates, lean protein, fresh fruit, vegetables and milk she explained.
“It’s a powerful tool against food insecurity in high need communities,” said Tobey.
The Food and Research Action Center released a report in February that survey school breakfast programs for low-income students. Newark Public Schools ranked fourth out of 76 districts across the country in school breakfast participation for the 2017-2018 school. NPS was lauded by the center for serving at least 70 low-income children school breakfast for every 100 participating in school lunch and using strategies that overcame the timing, cost, and stigma barriers common to traditional school breakfast programs.
Newark Kids Count 2019 reported that more than 30,000 children in Newark live in families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and 88% of free and reduced-price lunch eligible students in Newark Public School participated in the lunch and breakfast program.
For students and families who rely on programs, an afterschool meals program is a life jacket.
The Boys and Girls Club of Newark-Central Ward serves students in local neighborhoods which are predominantly Black and have high unemployment. The Club has program sites at KIPP Spark and KIPP Seek Academy that receives meals under the program as well.
“I was terrified the refrigerator was going to stop, so I begged,” Arenas said shamelessly. Born and raised in Newark, she and her siblings frequented the Boys and Girls Club on Broadway in the North Ward that closed in 2009. They didn't have an afterschool meals program and never any money for a snack, so she begged adults for food or to buy her a snack. This time around, she begged so that her club members would not have to.
“I was begging until I got a call saying hey, I got a refrigerator for your kids. It's important for my kids, to have a meal at the end of the day,” she said.
When a Newark Public School has issues with food service equipment, the school contacts facilities for equipment repairs. Independent afterschool program sites do not have that option because the district is not responsible for replacing or managing their equipment said Kendra Burton, Manager of Nutrition for Newark Public Schools.
“The refrigerators helped us out a lot with them being able to store the meals for the afterschool program. The grant that Prudential provided is going to help the program grow a lot,” said Burton. Currently, the district feeds about 8,500 students a day at 70 afterschool program sites.
“We aim to get more sites on board, sponsor more sites and inform as many families that at no cost to them, their child can receive a meal after school,” said Burton. “We will continue spreading the word to the community."