More New Jersey families turning to food assistance programs as price of groceries increases
As the school year winds down and school programs end, many New Jersey families are facing a new problem this summer with the rising cost of groceries. But many school districts and food banks in southern New Jersey are working together to make sure that no child goes hungry.
“I absolutely don’t know how families are getting by these days,” says Arlethia Brown, director of nutrition at Camden City Schools.
Brown’s job is to make sure that the children in the district are fed. And as grocery prices soar, she says she is seeing the need for food grow. The district currently officers free breakfast, lunch and dinner year-round.
“Yesterday I was at one of our schools and we had 35 kids and every single last one of them came in for a dinner meal,” Brown says.
All of the students in the Camden City School District qualify for the year-round free meals, but only 70% take advantage of it. The district says that they are expecting that number to grow this summer with the rising cost of food.
“We’re hoping to see the majority of our students that we wouldn’t normally see on a day-to-day come in to get a summer meal,” says Brown.
And it is not just the schools. The Food Bank of South Jersey says it is seeing new families turning to the food bank for help.
“We’ve seen a 40% increase in participation at our sites since January. So every month it goes up,” says chief operating officer Charles Hosier. “When we donate food or people come to us for donated food that takes the place and gives them a little more discretionary income to pay for things that they really need to sustain their lives.
The Food Bank of South Jersey offers food sites almost daily. The organization says people do not need to sign up ahead of time. Camden City Schools has 25 sites across the county to offer meals this summer. Both the school and food bank say that people should not hesitate to ask for help.
"These programs allow parents to use their funds to get gas or look for additional groceries or pay electric bills or water bills and continue to take care of their household rather than worry about how their children are going to eat,” says Brown.
The Food Bank of South Jersey says they are now serving just as many families monthly as they did during the COVID-19 pandemic and expect to surpass that if grocery prices continue to rise.