In normal circumstances, the summer lunch program operates as a dine-in service for students during the week with activities scheduled prior. However, because of the pandemic, things have been looking quite different for the center in the summer of 2020. The center had to close their dine-in service and pivot their programs to ensure they could continue serving their community and address the rising food insecurity among children and families in New Jersey.
The center provides meals under the federal Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) that provides free meals and snacks to help children and teens in low-income households get the nutrition they need throughout the summer months, when they are out of school and do not have access to school breakfast and lunch programs. Taking advantage of a federal waiver that allowed SFSP providers to still serve meals and adhere to social distancing, the center shifted from congregant meals in order to continue meal service safely.
In response to the pandemic, Dr. Martin Luther King Community Center implemented the Emergency Student Lunch Program, serving those 18 and under. This program operated as a drive-thru mode with delivery available for families who are not able to make the regular distribution times. Working with a local vendor, Wheat Rd Deli, the center provided boxed lunches. Each lunch included a sandwich, vegetables, fruit, and low-fat milk.
Given their central location, Dr. Martin Luther King Community Center serves people in and outside of Atlantic County.
Quentin McClendon, Director of the Dr. Martin Luther King Community Center, believes “that the core of what [the center] has been doing has been around food, but [they have] been limited on what [they] can do.”
At Dr. Martin Luther King Community Center, food has been instrumental in bring the community together. McClendon puts it perfectly: food allows “for a better atmosphere to open up and let people in.”
The NJCNF COVID-19 Emergency Meal Grant they received helped them expand their reach in the community and raise their food handling capacity.
Prior to receiving the NJCNF grant, the center had been serving approximately 125 meals per week with the Emergency Student Lunch Program. They simply did not have the capacity to serve more and were limited in their choices of fresh produce, dairy, and frozen products.
“There were times where we had to turn free donations away from farms because we didn’t have enough refrigeration for fresh produce,” McClendon said.
With the NJCNF grant, the center purchased additional refrigeration equipment and increased staff personnel, to benefit both the senior food pantry and the Emergency Summer Lunch Program. The center also started giving out recipes that incorporated fresh produce to encourage healthy eating. The Emergency Student Lunch Program served well over a thousand lunches.
ABOUT NJ CHILD NUTRITION FUND (NJCNF)
NJCNF aims to increase the number of low-income children receiving meals through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). Additionally, NJCNF seeks to facilitate the use of fresh, local and ethnically appropriate food whenever possible.
In the summer of 2020, Reinvestment Fund used NJCNF resources to offer emergency meal grants to meet the immediate capital and operational needs of organizations as they worked to respond to the evolving pandemic-related crisis.
The New Jersey Child Nutrition Fund initiative is supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.