N.J. lawmakers consider new approach to helping hungry kids

Senate President Steve Sweeney and Adele LaTourette

Senate President Steve Sweeney and Adele LaTourette

Some New Jersey lawmakers want to establish a revolving fund in the state Agriculture Department with the aim of helping alleviate childhood hunger.

Senate President Steve Sweeney says the plan would include more New Jersey students in the federally supported Breakfast After the Bell program that provides free and reduced-price breakfasts.

“We’re going to create a fund that provides start-up costs so that we help school districts identify other children that would qualify for this program because it’s hard to imagine going to school hungry and then trying to focus and trying to learn,” Sweeney said Monday.

The proposed $400,000 incentive fund would cover costs for schools that want to participate in the breakfast program but don’t have the resources, said Adele LaTourette, director of the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition.

“As you look around this week, and you look at all the emergency food pantries and soup kitchens that are giving out turkeys and having food drives and preparing for Thanksgiving dinner in soup kitchens, this is not enough,” she said. “And this bill will help tremendously.”

About half of eligible children in the state now get the school breakfasts, according to Cecilia Zalkind, president of Advocates for Children of New Jersey. But about 300,00 kids who qualify aren’t participating, and they don’t know where they will get their next meal.

“And we’ve heard from districts on every topic you can think of. A district that said we can’t do it in our school because we don’t have a dumpster or we don’t have our food service in order,” Zalkind said. “So this is a way to address those initial concerns.”

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