Food for Thought Campaign Making A Difference for Kids: Sharp Increase In School Breakfast Participation

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More New Jersey schools are serving breakfast during school hours, leading to a nearly 75 percent increase over the last several years in the number of low-income students who are receiving a meal in the morning, according to a report to be released October 15.

The fifth annual NJ School Breakfast Report will be formally presented Thursday morning during a gathering of educators and anti-hunger advocates in Jersey City.

Many schools already serve breakfast but do so before classes begin — when students may not have arrived to campus. The key, say advocates of the “Breakfast After the Bell” campaign, is to offer meals when students are present.

A campaign now five years in operation, ensures that students whose families can’t afford to provide breakfast, don’t end up skipping the first meal of the day.  A meal that studies show, can impact academic performance.

And, the campaign is working.  As more campuses signed on to the program, the number of students eligible for free or reduced-priced meals who received breakfast in school jumped from about 136,000 in 2010 to 237,000 this year, according to the report. During that same period, the number of children from higher-income families who participated in school breakfast programs increased 31 percent, signaling that more parents who can afford breakfast prefer their children to eat at school, the report said.  New Jersey moved from 48th in school breakfast participation to 28th.  The State also saw the largest gain in participation at 13 percent.

Despite the gains in participation, the Executive Director for Advocates for Children of New Jersey, who, along with the New Jersey Anti-Hunger Coalition, are co-leaders of the NJ Food for Thought Campaign, indicated that nearly 300,000 children still aren’t receiving breakfasts.

During a panel discussion about school breakfasts at an anti-poverty summit earlier this week, advocates of the program said children who aren’t properly nourished tend to exhibit more behavioral issues and visit the school nurse more often. They also linked well-fed children to increased academic performance.

The School Breakfast Report identified districts with the highest participation rates — Woodbine, in Cape May County, topped the list among districts where half or more of ther students are low-income — as well as 48 “underachievers,” defined as high-poverty districts or schools where 30 percent or fewer of the low-income students are served breakfasts.

The NJ Food for Thought Campaign is a statewide coalition made up of anti-hunger, education and health organizations, child advocates, and the New Jersey Departments of Agriculture, Education and Health.

ACNJ also released data for every school district with at least 20 percent of students eligible for free- and reduced-priced school meals. State law requires these districts to provide school breakfast (local data).