A Food Bank of South Jersey initiative than began last summer, the Bus Stop Cafe is open for business in Florence on Monday through Wednesday, where kids eat free from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m., offering healthy meals to neighborhood children every weekday now until Aug. 30. The bus also makes stops in Mount Holly and Burlington City, where the program has been feeding over 50 children each day this week.
FLORENCE — No sooner had the Bus Stop Cafe pulled up to the Maplewood Homes parking lot in Florence, than Ahrmani, 9, had run out the front door and climbed up the steps of the school-bus-turned-eatery.
Ahrmani, of Willingboro, and her brother William, 7, hopped on the bus to enjoy free lunch, something that they’ve been doing since the program started this summer on July 17 whenever they are staying with family in the area.
A Food Bank of South Jersey initiative that began last summer, the Bus Stop Cafe is open for business in Florence Monday through Wednesday, where kids eat free from 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.
“Our mission extends well beyond simply feeding those in need,” said Food Bank Interim President and CEO, Joe Njoroge. “We want to engage kids with opportunities to benefit their health in greater ways with committed partners to execute a program that nourishes their bodies and their minds throughout the entire summer season.”
Over 57,000 children in the South Jersey area are facing food insecurity, according to the food bank, which is why it has been expanding its summer meal program. The remodeled bus is fully equipped with tables and benches to solidify the cafe atmosphere and children can hang out in the air conditioning while they enjoy their meals.
“When the school programs end, a lot of the kids don’t get the chance to eat during the day,” said Andrew Johnson, of Willingboro. “That was the motivation behind his project.”
The mobile eatery usually feeds between 15 and 30 children at its stop in Florence, offering healthy meals to neighborhood children every weekday now through Aug. 30.
On Wednesday, the kids enjoyed a chicken Caesar wrap, Goldfish crackers, a pear, apple sauce, juice, and other snacks.
“We only serve healthy meals,” said Johnson, who manages the mobile eatery. “I think that it’s needed, it gives them an opportunity to eat better. We’re just trying to teach them how to be healthy.”
The Bus Stop Cafe isn’t just a place to grab a bite to eat, it’s also where children can go to be a part of the community, play games, and make new friends.
“That’s my favorite part, being able to meet new people,” said Johnathan, 13, of Florence. “We’ve made new friends since we started coming here.
He and his brother Adam, 9, have been going to the program every day since its return this summer after their parents learned of the resource.
“This matters because that way (kids) have the opportunity to make new friends and eat lunch,” said Johnathan, who likes how the program brings the community together.
Johnson said that they try to make sure that the kids have fun by encouraging them to bring toys onto the bus and play games. They also send them home with extra snacks.
“I wish I had something like this when I was growing up,” he said. “When the kids come on here it becomes a community, everybody’s important, everybody’s included, and they feel safe.”
Johnson’s been driving the bus since the program was installed last summer, and he was excited to join his partner Martha Nyangulu, of Collingswood, Camden County, and continue to bring meals to communities in Burlington County.
The bus also makes stops in Mount Holly and Burlington City, where the program has been feeding over 50 children each day this week. The program targets areas where there is no organized summer camp.
“I get satisfaction out of doing this,” said Johnson. “It could be anyone (missing a meal) and they get to come out and get lunch.”
During the 2017 summer season, the Bus Stop Café served 8,300 meals, according to the Food Bank of South Jersey, and provides children and parents with a temporary source of relief during the three months it operates in coordination with the Summer Meals program.