Free meals for a healthy summer

Free breakfast and lunch “for everyone 18 years old and under” are available at more than 1,200 sites in teh city, including P.S. 9 Sarah Anderson, at 100 West 84th Street. Photo: Ema Schumer
A city program provides breakfast and lunch at no cost for children 18 and under
By Ema Schumer

School’s out for summer, and while some kids are thinking about how to have fun in the sun, others have a different worry on their mind: going hungry during the day.

Every day of the school year, the New York City Department of Education (DOE) serves over 700,000 free meals, according to the Manhattan borough president’s website. For students who rely on these meals, summer recess can be a source of angst.

That’s why — from June 27 to August 30 — the DOE serves free breakfast and lunch to children 18 and under at approximately 1,200 sites throughout the five boroughs.

“Our focus on the health and well-being of young people continues throughout the summer months, and we want all New Yorkers to know that we provide free breakfast and lunch across the City,” Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza said in a DOE press release.

“Free Summer Meals for Kids” is a federally-funded program that operates in public schools, community pool centers, recreation facilities, public parks, churches, and more. From Monday through Friday, children can show up at any of the locations to eat breakfast from 8 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. and lunch from 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. The menu features pancakes, cheese omelettes, beef tacos, cheese pizza, fruit salad, and more.

All Are Welcome

Brooklynite Joshua McKie, 20, said that growing up he and his three siblings depended on food provided by the DOE. “My mom was able to use the public school breakfast and lunch program to feed us over the summers, and it saved massive amounts of money. We would go pretty much every day in all honesty,” he said.

McKie — who graduated from the Trinity School on the Upper West Side and attends college at the University of Chicago — remembers using the program one summer during high school when he was working at the New York Public Library. “I would jog over from 42nd and Seventh to about 54th and Tenth every day to get free lunch. It was a great way to cut expenses. It saved me about $1,000,” McKie said.

To Angela Rodriguez, an Upper West Side mother whose children used the summer meals program when they were in elementary school, the city has a responsibility to provide free meals to kids over the summer. For many kids, Rodriguez said, the free meals they eat during the school year are their main source of food. “The city can’t look the other way and think they’ll get meals for those eight weeks,” she said.

Linda Carter-Cooper, a school aide for the DOE, with 20 years experience assisting with the program, said that the summer meals program benefits a wide range of New Yorkers. Families who cannot afford to provide meals for their children and more financially-stable families alike bring their children, she said. “We’re allowed to feed anyone. We’re open, and there is no discrimination,” said Carter-Cooper, who is working this summer at P.S. 9 Sarah Anderson on West 84th Street between Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.

As a mother of four, Carter-Cooper said the program benefited her family personally. “I didn’t have to spend money to feed them. I didn’t have to wake up to make sandwiches before going to work. My kids and I were very appreciative,” she said.

Raising Awareness of the Program

For Roxanne Mootreddy, a mother of two boys ages four and six, the summer meals program is convenient and cost-effective. Mootreddy, who has taken her sons to sites at various locations across the city for the past four summers, appreciates the program’s efforts to introduce healthier foods into kids’ diets.

The meals are “trying to push something fresh...trying to incorporate things that kids might not want to eat...I like that they put a whole food item in there, like bananas, apples, and oranges,” Mootreddy said.

Not all New Yorkers might be able to take advantage of these healthy offerings, however. Though Carter-Cooper said that the program benefits New Yorkers from all backgrounds, she recognizes there may be barriers to entry for families who do not have access to the internet, where information regarding the program is posted.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer works to spread awareness of the program so that more families can take advantage of the summer meals. Her office disseminates program information at schools during the school year and hands out fliers with site-specific information available in English, Spanish, and Chinese.

“Too many New York City children go hungry during the summer break from school — that will never be something that sits well with me,” Brewer wrote in an email to Straus News.