Last fall, middle school students across New York City enjoyed universal free lunch without the bullying and name-calling that too often accompanies students who participate in the program.
This victory was a result of the efforts of Community Food Advocates (CFA), a North Star Fund Movement Leadership grantee. For more than a year, CFA spearheaded the Lunch 4 Learning campaign and made the case that universal free and healthy school meals eliminate the poverty stigma associated with school lunch and gets more students eating and learning.
Analysis of data from the Department of Education collected between September and December 2014 indicates that the lunch program experienced over an eight percent spike in participation. Yet despite this success, Mayor de Blasio has not yet declared support to expand the program to elementary or high school students in the upcoming school year.
Audrey Gardua, a 16-year-old at Bushwick High School for Social Justice, notes, “I was really hungry and I got in the line for lunch. One of my peers came up to me and said ‘Audrey, I know you like that free-free.’ This bullying and judgment has no place in our cafeteria.”
The participation of students and parents directly impacted by this issue is critical to the success of the campaign.
CFA Executive Director Liz Accles commented, “As part of North Star Fund’s Movement Leadership cohort, we learned how to support affected communities to take leadership as campaign spokespeople. When students and parents who participate in the school lunch program tell their stories, they have a huge impact on administrators.”
Accles continued, “The program is a win-win for New York City. It has been successful in getting thousands more students eating every day and has already brought an additional 4.1 million in federal dollars into New York City with more meals being reimbursed at a higher federal rate. We need the mayor to make a modest investment in this program that can reach all grade levels in every neighborhood citywide."
Community Food Advocates is continuing to put pressure on Mayor de Blasio and Chancellor Carmen Fariña to make lunch available for free to all New York City public school students.
A final budget decision will be made at the end of June.
.@billdeblasio There are 10K fewer hungry middle school students, let's expand so more students don't go hungry. #universalschoollunch
.@billdeblasio Progressive agenda=using all tools to ensure children have enough to eat #universalschoollunch #lunch4learning
.@billdeblasio Use all tools to fight hunger #universalschoollunch #lunch4learning
.@billdeblasio Boston, Dallas, Chicago, Philly, Detroit are all doing it. Make NYC next #universalschoollunch #lunch4learning
Accles continued, "We need the mayor to make a modest investment in this program that can reach all grade levels in every neighborhood citywide."line