By John Burton
RED BANK – Hunger knows no calendar.
Children attending some summer programs here in the borough and elsewhere in Monmouth and Ocean counties are able to take advantage of a program, sponsored by the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, that provides breakfast and lunch.
The food bank is supplying 200 meals a day in Red Bank of the roughly 1,200 it is providing for about 14 locations throughout the two counties for low income children during the summer months.
“The first thing that falls off the table, if you will, is the nutritional quality of food” when money gets tight for families that struggle financially, said Carlos Rodriguez, executive director of the FoodBank of Monmouth and Ocean Counties, located in Neptune. “Empty calories are always cheaper” as families look to stretch available money.
The food bank is working with the Boys and Girls Club of Red Bank, providing the meals at its 138 Drs. James Parker Blvd. location and for the expanded educational and literacy program the club is conducting at Calvary Baptist Church on Bridge Avenue, said Christy Crank, director of the Red Bank club.
In addition, the food bank is supplying meals at two of the borough’s summer recreation program locations, Rodriguez said.
About 90 percent of Red Bank’s public school population qualifies for the free and reduced lunch program, which is a traditional indication of the students’ families’ economic level.
“What we know is many families rely on school meals during the school year” which helps ensure children are receiving some nutritious food during the school days, Rodriguez said.
When school isn’t in session, “it becomes an extra financial burden and worry for many families who are struggling to begin with,” he said.
The food bank relies on the input of its nutritionist, Wendi Silver, to work with its vendor, Nu-Way Concessionaires of Kearney, to come up with meal choices. They look for meals “that are the best nutrition choices from our resources,” follow the traditional school lunch program and are ones the kids will eat, Rodriguez said.
“We try to make it fun as well because, if they don’t eat it, it doesn’t help anyone,” he said.
Without the program, “some of these kids would go home hungry,” said Christy Crank, director of the Red Bank Boys and Girls Club. “These kids really depend on this program.”
The program provides meals for about 122 children, ages 5-13, at club’s primary location and another 37 at the Calvary Baptist site plus summer staff younger than 18. Each day the kids have a breakfast of cereal, juice and low-fat milk. For lunch it’s usually a sandwich, such as tuna salad or turkey breast on whole grain bread, with low-fat white or chocolate milk, a piece of fresh fruit or cookies.
“The kids really enjoy the food,” Crank said.
What is left over from lunch usually serves as a late-day snack. “We have no food left over at the end of the day,” which runs at the club from 8 a.m. until 5 or 6 p.m., Crank said.
“Diet, especially for younger children, is so important for their health, growth and educational development,” Rodriguez said.
The food program is made possible through a partnership of the food bank with the state and federal departments of agriculture. It will run though mid-August, according to Rodriquez.
There remains “a preponderance of food insecurity in Monmouth and Ocean counties,” with about one of every five residents relying on food pantries and other programs, Rodriquez said.