I’m grateful for the USDA’s summer meals program that exists to provide food for low-income children in urban and rural areas during the summer months when schools are not in session, since many children rely on their schools from September through June for nutritious meals, sometimes two a day.
There are a lot of reasons for this, including an inadequate minimum wage and the fact that the working poor often spend from 30 to 50 percent of pretax earnings on rent. Far from a complete list, these constitute some systemic causes that make the summer meals program an absolute necessity.
Yet in the midst of poverty we’re also a wealthy and wasteful society, evidenced by the fact that we routinely waste between 30 and 40 percent of our food supply according to the USDA, with 31 percent of this loss coming at the retail and consumer level. In 2010, this reality translated into a 133 billion pounds of wasted food with a value of $161 billion, most of which ended up in landfills.
With numbers that large across a country this big, these problems can seem far away, but they’re not. In Bridgeton, between 2011 and 2015 nearly 2,200 renting households were cost-burdened spending 30 percent or more of their gross income on rent with 52 percent of these earning less than $20k per year. This partly accounts for the poverty rate for children under 18 coming in at roughly 42 percent.
With the forces that go into making the summer meals program necessary, some still believe the program should be cut over other items. I don’t accept that, especially when it involves kids in a society that wastes so much food annually. While we can’t solve that problem here, we will feed some hungry kids at sites in Bridgeton this summer.
The Marino Center, located at 11 Washington Street will begin the program on July 8 and end August 19 with a schedule that includes Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday with breakfast at 9 a.m. and lunch at 12 noon. Nearby, Gateway’s facilities at 110 Cohansey Street had a start date of July 1, with an ending date of August 2 and will operate Monday through Friday serving breakfast only at 8:30 a.m.
The following schools will have their meals program July 8 until August 2, operating Monday through Friday with breakfast at 8:30 a.m. and lunch at 12 noon: Cherry Street School, Indian Avenue School, and Buckshutem School.
West Avenue School and Quarter Mile Lane School will start breakfast at 8 a.m. and lunch at 11:30 a.m. Bridgeton High started a meals program on June 24 to run through August 30. Monday through Friday, breakfast starts at 8:45 a.m. with lunch at 12 noon.
At other neighborhood locations, the Johnson Reeves Playground at 115 East Avenue will host a summer meals program beginning on July 8 and running until August 2. It will operate Monday through Friday serving lunch only at 2:30 p.m.
The summer meals program in the Southeast Gateway neighborhood will be held at the Greater Family Success Center located at 155 Spruce Street beginning July 8 and ending August 16 with operations Monday through Friday. Lunch only will be served beginning at 12 noon.
PALs Soccer Team will provide summer meals at the Alms Center, 1 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, July 8 to August 19, serving an early lunch at 11 a.m. and a late lunch at 1 p.m. Monday, Wednesday, and Friday only.
The program for Midget Football will run from July 29 to August 30, Monday through Friday, with meals at 7:45 a.m. only, at the Midget Football field located near the soccer field on Scholastic Drive.
The Summer Theater Camp at 1 Martin Luther King, Jr., Way will operate from July 29 to August 16, Monday through Friday, with breakfast at 9 a.m. and lunch at 12 noon.
There is no cost or enrollment required and the program is open to children 18 or under. I’ve highlighted only some Bridgeton locations but there may be more local sites, as well as sites in Millville, Vineland, Salem, Gloucester and throughout South Jersey. To learn more, visit fns.usda.gov/summerfoodrocks.