Dinner Program Provides Free Evening Meals for Students in Paterson, New Jersey

by Deirdre Appel
Dinner Program

Policy Name: School Dinner Program in Paterson, New Jersey, School District

Overview: For the fourth year in a row, the Paterson School District is implementing a free school dinner program in addition to its breakfast and lunch programs. The program is now serving dinner to 1,281 students in 15 schools, and the program is expected to expand throughout the school year. At the end of the 2018-2019 school year, 23 schools served dinner to approximately 1,400 students. 

Location: Paterson, New Jersey

Population: 145,627

Food Policy category: Food insecurity

Program goals: To ensure that low-income students have access to three full meals per day. 

How it works: Under the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), any student in the Paterson School District, regardless of income, is able to receive breakfast and lunch at school, free of charge and without having to submit an application, while the dinner program is reimbursed through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP). Students eating dinner stay for an after-school program and eat their evening meal at school. The Paterson School District spends $500,000 on the school dinner program, and is reimbursed by the federal government. 

Progress to date: The free dinner program in the Paterson School District started in two schools during the 2016-2017 school year and served about 100 students. In the following school year, 2017-2018, the program expanded to 13 schools and served 500 students. Last year, 23 schools including 1,400 students participated in the initiative. Paterson is currently in the fourth year of the program and so far has 15 participating schools serving 1,281 students. As more after-school academic enrichment programs open up throughout the school year, it is expected that participation in the dinner program will far surpass last year’s numbers.  Food service director David Buchholtz is also planning to expand the program to churches and community centers in the near future. 

 Why it is important: Twenty-nine percent of the population in Paterson is living in poverty, and many students rely on school meals as their main source of nutrition. While free breakfast and lunch are often offered to low-income students through the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program, many of these students do not eat a full meal at home in the evening. As Superintendent Eileen Shafer stated, “Children simply cannot learn when they are hungry,” which is why she believes the school dinner program will help them succeed academically. 

Program/Policy Initiated: The dinner program began as a pilot in 2016-2017.

Point of contact: 

  • Superintendent Eileen Shafer
  • superintendent@paterson.k12.nj.us
  • 973-321-0980

Similar Practices: Federal funding for snacks and meals in at-risk after-school programs is provided through the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP)Robstown, Texas, is one school district that implemented a free dinner program to close the after-school hunger gap, with positive results.  

Evaluation: After the 2016-2017 pilot year, a survey was distributed to families participating in the program and received very positive feedback. Due to limited manpower in the school district, though, evaluation measures have not been completed since the first year of the program. 

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