Despite having some of the highest unemployment and home foreclosure rates in New Jersey, the city of Perth Amboy refuses to let kids go hungry over the summer. In 2011 the city extended the Summer Food Service Program by two weeks and added 20 new feeding sites. Through an aggressive marketing effort using local newspapers, businesses, cable TV access programming and schools to advertise site locations and activities, Perth Amboy has made providing meals to kids when school’s out a top priority.
I first met Mayor Wilda Diaz last year when USDA invited local government leaders, hunger advocates, and faith-based groups to take part in a community roundtable in Perth Amboy. Max Finberg, from USDA’s Office of Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and Lisa Pino, Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) Deputy Administrator for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program hosted the discussions to connect with diverse communities, build coalitions, identify barriers to food security, increase participation in FNS programs and work toward a goal of ending hunger in America. The discussions were part of a series of meetings at locations throughout the country; Perth Amboy was selected because of the city’s need.
Now, one year later, I once again sat down with Mayor Diaz and the city’s recreation staff to talk about ways to reach even more children in years to come. In this city, where nearly 85 percent of children qualify for free or reduced-price meals, leveraging every available USDA feeding program is critical. I also met with Kenneth Ortiz, Perth Amboy’s Director of Human Services, who is hoping to expand the program to cover meals on Saturdays and Sundays next summer, as well as increase participation in after-school feeding programs. We spoke of the Child and Adult Care Food Program At Risk component as the city’s next effort and how important it is to maintain the city’s close relationship with the state officials who have been working so hard to help Perth Amboy feed its children.
Ortiz and his colleague Raquel Gonzalez took me to visit two of their feeding sites. Our first stop was the Puerto Rican Association for Human Development’s Mi Escuelita summer program where more than 75 kids take part in daily activities such as soccer and basketball. At lunchtime they gather in the air-conditioned auditorium to cool off and have a healthy meal.
Our next stop was the Caledonia/Roessler city park where neighborhood children played on swings and slides and cooled off running through the park’s kid-friendly water feature. At noon the hungry kids lined up when the delivery truck arrived with boxes full of sandwiches, fruit and ice cold milk.
While the lunches are funded through USDA’s summer meals program, the success of feeding children when school is out depends on the sites that Perth Amboy has worked so hard to increase. This city’s dedication to serving its most vulnerable citizens during such trying times is an inspiration for us at FNS and a model for other cities to follow.
Please follow USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service on Twitter.