For many, the summer can be a care-free and leisurely time, as children take time away from school and the warm and sunny weather carries our minds to the shore. But for children who receive free and reduced lunch, the summer can be a time of wondering about how they can find nourishing and healthy food, especially as parents work. This issue also is more prevalent in smaller cities whose infrastructure does not allow for feeding
children during the summer. Fortunately, there is a new program that can support these children and be easily replicated in communities all over New Jersey, and the New Jersey Synod Hunger Task Group has sponsored a site in Galloway Township that is seeking to feed children.
Around 11:30am on a hot August morning, Kim Gollub, the site director, meets Pete, Kirsten, Jodie and Bernadette at a park off Wrangleboro Rd. in Galloway Township, and begins pulling out tables and tents. By the time of my visit in August, the team had the setup process figured out, and, very quickly, the parking lot becomes a picnic area with a relay race area, prize box, soccer balls, and crafts. When the food arrives after being made at Galloway Township Middle School, the team begins gazing down the road, waiting for kids and families to walk or occasionally drive. There are 1019 children who are eligible for free and reduced lunch within a mile of where we were, and 118 had been signed up this summer. Most days saw anywhere from 20-50 children, though having to walk in the heat was a factor in attendance. In addition, some of the apartment complexes nearby had issues around crime, so parents weren’t comfortable with children playing outside while they were at work. This meant that whatever food was in the house was also the only option, and usually resulted in eating less-nourishing food.
As we wait, Kim, a recently retired teacher, shares her frustration and hope for this program. This program is a federally-funded initiative, managed by the state of New Jersey, which means the paperwork is complicated. Now in its second year, they first tried to provide a mobile feeding program for each of the nearby apartment complexes, but apartment managers were fearful of kids gathering without adult supervision. In addition, last
year’s food tended to be poor quality, and Kim is grateful for the significantly better meals (today’s lunch was Italian sandwiches, peaches, apple juice, and milk). She has already begun to think about the possibility of renting a food truck to drive the meals to the children, taking an incarnational approach of bringing the food to the children rather than them coming to her. As we are talking, Donte, a 9-year-old heading into the 4th grade, walks up, and passes over the food to begin playing. Soon afterward, Nicole brings 4 children from her family, and the place began to hum with excitement. Soon, the relay races began, with adults and children hopping, bouncing balls, and playing with water balloons.
What struck me was the community that was fostered in this feeding program. Everyone was there and having fun, whether adult or child, recipient or volunteer. The volunteers included a group of students from Stockton College, who loved playing with the children. Relationships have been built, and this parking lot is transformed into a blessed community where children were fed and cared for. In the Gospels, Jesus showed love and cared for children, valuing them and calling us to do the same.
In many communities around New Jersey, the summer is a hungry time for children, and this program can easily
be reproduced. The New Jersey Synod Hunger Task Force can help and support congregations as they strive to support those who are hungry in their communities, and Kim Gollub has offered to talk to congregations to offer her knowledge and passion and you can reach her at email@example.com or 609-338-9845. If you are interested in learning about how your congregation could take part, Beth Peroni of the Hunger Task Group of the New Jersey Synod can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to learn more about the program in Galloway Township, visit ‘Galloway Summer Food and Fun’ on Facebook.