Today Mayor de Blasio and Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito announced that at the start of the next school year all public middle school students in New York City will have access to universal free lunch. The announcement comes after just months of advocacy by the coalition based Lunch 4 Learning Campaign spearheaded by Community Food Advocates.
Community Food Advocates Executive Director, Liz Accles released the following statement:
"This is an incredibly transformative moment for middle school students who will grow up with a school lunch program where everyone eats on equal terms—the poverty stigma attached to school lunch will be erased.
“This major shift lays the groundwork for universal free school lunch for all New York City students. A fundamental part of a public education should include enough nourishment to learn. The Lunch 4 Learning campaign will continue to work with the de Blasio Administration and the City Council to fulfill this promise for all New York City public school students.
“We thank Mayor de Blasio, Chancellor Farina, Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, and Council Finance Chair, Julissa Ferreras for taking this first major step to ensuring students are fed and and focused in school; Public Advocate Letitia James and Councilman Danny Dromm for their crucial leadership, and Senator Liz Krueger for her dedication to making this a reality.”
Lunch 4 Learning (L4L) is a diverse, coalition-based campaign spearheaded by Community Food Advocates that has focused on making free and healthy meals available to all NYC public school students, regardless of income. The L4L campaign has brought together 170 organizational and elected partners, top chefs and celebrities to elevate this issue and focus the attention of the new Mayor and Chancellor to make this an anti-hunger, health and educational priority.
Hundreds of thousands of students in NYC public schools do not participate in federally funded school lunch due to the programs’ poverty stigma. An astonishing 68 percent of NYC’s 1.1 million public school children have family incomes low enough to be eligible for free school lunch (below $25,000 for a household of three). Seventy five percent have incomes that qualify them for either free or reduced priced meals.
However, many of these students, especially as they get older, go without eating school lunch for fear of being labeled poor by their peers, with long-lasting health and educational consequences.
In 2013, 250,000 out of 780,000 students eligible for free or reduced price meals did not participate in the subsidized school lunch program. Many more students are above income eligibility for free or reduced priced lunch, yet are in families that are struggling to makes ends meet. Additionally, Currently, 81% of elementary school students eat school lunch; it drops to 61% in middle school; and 38% in high school.
The Mayor’s decision to fight these challenges, begins to changes the current system – which links school food with family income. Poverty stigma greatly impacts participation, especially as children get older.