The Department of Education launched this year’s summer meals program which starts Thursday at M.S. 131 in Manhattan’s Chinatown, where Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said the free meals are key to combatting hunger when school is out.
“During the school year, we serve 860,000 meals a day, so that’s something that would not be in existence during the summer,” Walcott said on Tuesday, joined by partnering groups and Yankee infielder Jayson Nix. “That’s our goal of making sure we prevent hunger and also have healthy meals so that we can focus on reducing obesity as well.”
One in four kids in New York City are food insecure. That means they live in households that have trouble putting food on the table every day. According to Josh Wachs, chief strategy officer of Share our Strength, a national hunger advocacy group, food insecurity is not because there isn’t enough food in New York City.
“The problem is kids and their families aren’t accessing those food programs like the summer meal programs,” Wachs said.
New York City’s summer meals program is the biggest in the country, and is federally funded through the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act in Congress. Last summer, more than seven million meals were served. City officials said they hope for increased participation this summer.
“This year we are broadening our outreach because we want all eligible children to participate,” Walcott said.
Phyllis Tam, the principal of M.S. 131, said that 86 percent of her 492 middle school students rely on free meals during the school year.
“When they’re hungry, they cannot focus. They cannot learn, they suffer from the lessons, from their classes,” Tam said.
Her school has been a participating site for the summer meals program for the past 10 years, feeding up to 1,000 students every day.
“”The community will definitely benefit from the free meal program. They don’t have to worry about not having food on the table,” Tam said. “The families know this is available and they take advantage of it.”
There are slated to be more than 1,000 sites throughout the five boroughs providing free meals. No identification is required.