Why This Series?
All four counties in The Press of Atlantic City's coverage area - Atlantic, Cape May, Cumberland and Ocean - have the highest rates in the state of children who lack access to healthy and nutritious foods, both in quality and quantity, according to the Feeding America organization. For every eight children in New Jersey, one struggles with hunger. In total, there were more than 330,000 of those children in 2014.
Because of this increasing need, The Press is producing an extended series examining the issue of food insecurity for children in South Jersey. The project, called Growing Up Hungry, will appear in print at the end of each month. We have developed a special web page for stories, photo galleries, graphics and videos related to the struggle to feed our local children.
Children in South Jersey are going hungry. Some are not getting enough food, some are getting cheap, processed and fatty foods that may lead to serious health problems later in life.
Nearly one out of five children in South Jersey are considered food insecure, which means they don’t know where their next meal is coming from.
You probably couldn’t pick them out a crowd.
“Childhood hunger looks like your kid, whoever you are reading this,” said Richard Uniacke, vice president of the Community Food Bank of New Jersey’s Southern Branch in Egg Harbor Township. “It comes in all shapes and sizes. You’re not going to pick them out of a crowd, because they are struggling in silence, as are their families.”
Across the region and the country, communities are trying to tackle the problem.
In places like Atlantic City and Absecon, mobile food pantries are trying to bring food closer to children and adults who need it.
“It’s helpful because even though I get food stamps, it isn’t enough,” said Elizabeth Hassall a single mother of three children who lost her job when Revel closed.
Through a program called gleaning, some New Jersey farms use volunteers to pick produce that otherwise would rot in farm fields. In some cases, the cost for such fruits and vegetables can be 20 pounds for $1.
“A lot of students came to school hungry,” said Connie Skvir, of Delran Township, a retired special education teacher who became a gleaning volunteer at Fernbrook Farms in Burlington County. “They had single mothers raising one, two or three children and trying their best to feed them. You can’t learn and you can’t do your best if you’re hungry.”
Some areas try unique approaches. Brown’s Super Stores operates ShopRites in predominantly low-income areas of Philadelphia, where poor people can traditionally lack easy access to supermarkets and healthy foods. Part of the business model is to offer more than food – offering health clinics, counseling services, credit unions and free community rooms.
Schools are taking creating measures as well.
In Wildwood, where nearly half of children live in poverty, there are programs offering free breakfasts, lunches and dinners, as well as cooking classes that teach children how to use leftovers.
“We don’t waste anything. It would be a sin to waste food when these kids don’t have enough of it at home,” said Chef Stephen Serano.