Hunger Free New Jersey (HFNJ) is the state’s leading advocacy organization working to end hunger in New Jersey and a program of the Center for Food Action, which provides emergency services to northern New Jersey’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. The organization works to educate the public and decision-makers about hunger and mobilize diverse coalitions to identify and eradicate barriers to participation in federal feeding programs such as SNAP, WIC, and other child nutrition programs.
Data and community building are at the heart of HFNJ’s approach. Using information from the New Jersey Department of Agriculture and others, HFNJ works to identify communities where participation in existing federal feeding programs, such as school breakfast or summer meals, is low. In communities with high numbers of children at risk of hunger, federally subsidized feeding programs are a valuable resource that can provide free nutritious meals.
Once communities with unmet needs are identified, HFNJ works to find and organize partners who can work together to solve the challenges in their community.
“There are so many organizations out there already doing really impactful work in their community. What we do is help them see how, by working together, they can have an even larger impact.”
Partnerships are a powerful tool for addressing childhood hunger and building (and sustaining) coalitions is a core element of HFNJ’s approach. In many communities, local stakeholders are focused on serving their families or clients but have not connected with local partners around hunger-related issues. By bringing these stakeholders together around hunger, HFNJ is able to develop new solutions that unlock new resources to better serve the local community.
“There are so many organizations out there already doing really impactful work in their community. What we do is help them see how, by working together, they can have an even larger impact” says Brad Preston, HFNJ’s Child Nutrition Outreach Specialist.
Local coalitions work together to set goals, study gaps in meal access in their community, and identify potential partners and strategies to fill those gaps. Along the way HFNJ works to connect partners with resources that will help achieve their goals.
In Dover, for example, HFNJ convened a group of local stakeholders to do an informal community needs assessment, which revealed gaps in the city’s summer meal service. At the time, the local school district was not operating a summer meals program, despite a growing need for summer meals among the community’s children. The City’s Department of Parks and Recreation was a summer meal sponsor but was only providing meals to children enrolled in their summer camps.
The community’s lack of summer meal sites left thousands of children in Dover without access to nutrition over the summer. Bringing together representatives from local city agencies, public health officials, and community leaders, HFNJ’s coalition was able to identify the need for additional summer meal sites and strategize ways to fill the gaps.
After meeting with partners and discussing the issue, two local pastors partnered to create a new summer program at a centrally located church. Working with the City’s Department of Parks and Recreation, the church became an open summer meal site under the City’s sponsorship. Partners from a community health center and other non-profits stepped up to provide enrichment activities for children and to staff the program, which now serves lunch five days a week to the children of Dover.
Lisa Pitz, HFNJ’s outreach director says, “bringing people together and creating partnerships between those who live and work in the community, is the most successful way to reach more children with summer meals and other child nutrition programs. Sharing ideas, resources and working collaboratively is the best way to get the job done and ensure that more children have access to healthy food every day.”
HFNJ brings this expertise as a valuable partner working with Reinvestment Fund as part of the New Jersey Child Nutrition Fund.
The New Jersey Child Nutrition Fund (NJCNF), supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, provides capital funding and technical assistance for federal nutrition program sponsors, sites, and meal vendors to expand the availability of fresh and nutritious food to children across the state of New Jersey. In the next round of NJCNF starting in 2021, HFNJ will focus their community-building and outreach efforts in five priority communities.
“Setting up a meal program often introduces new costs and equipment requirements that are difficult for organizations just getting off the ground,” says Karen Bustard, Program Manager at Reinvestment Fund. “We’re thrilled to be able to work with HFNJ and the partners they represent, to connect communities with grants and loans that can help start or scale these important meal programs serving children.”
Contributor: Jacob Rosch, Senior Policy Analyst
Jacob Rosch conducts quantitative and qualitative research at Reinvestment Fund. His most recent projects have investigated the supply of uncertified child care in the Philadelphia area, the impact of scattered site housing projects, and the role of “middle market” neighborhoods in legacy cities. At Reinvestment Fund, Mr. Rosch leads projects to help philanthropic, government, and private investors design strategies to support the expansion of high quality childcare, build healthy and thriving communities, and improve the lives of residents and families in disadvantaged communities.