By Lisa Autz
Children from Queens and the rest of the city can get free, healthy food all summer starting this week.
Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott, New York Yankee Jayson Nix, government agencies, nonprofit organizations and elected officials gathered Tuesday to announce the start of the annual summer meals program in the city at MS 131 on the Lower East Side in Manhattan.
In light of recent reports that only 16 percent of eligible children receive summer meals, the officials encouraged families to take advantage of the free breakfast and lunch and asked children to tell their friends to join.
The American Dairy Association is also working with the Yankees to raise awareness of the program.
“Players will have lunch with kids and hold drawings for Yankee merchandise and game tickets to reward families for making healthy choices,” said American Dairy Association Vice President of School Marketing Andrea Thompson.
From June 27 through Aug. 30, more than 1,000 pools, parks, schools, libraries and public housing sites throughout the five boroughs will have free meals. Refrigerated meal trucks are also available Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the Queens Public Library and at Orchard Beach in the Bronx. Last summer more than 7 million meals were served, according to the city Department of Education.
MS 131 has hosted the summer meals program for about 10 years.
“The cafeteria is filled with children in the summer. We serve about 1,000 meals a day,” said Principal Phyllis Tam. “The summer meals program also brings our community closer together.”
According to a new national report released June 10, during the 2011-12 school year, more than 1.1 million students in New York received free or discounted lunches, but only 313,175 children received summer meals on an average day in July 2012.
New York saw a 2.1 percent decrease in summer nutrition program participation in 2012, but maintains its third-place position in a nationwide analysis. It exceeds the national rate of one in seven low-income students participating in summer nutrition programs, according to “Hunger Doesn’t Take a Vacation” by the Food Research and Action Center.
FRAC measures national summer participation during the month of July, when children lose access to school meals. A comparison is made of the children participating in summer meal programs vs. the number of low-income children receiving school meals during the school year.
Social media, fliers, subway ads and Yankee players are helping to promote the summer meals program. More diverse and nutritious meals are being prepared for the summer’s program to increase participation as well.
“We have a new addition of Italian-style grilled chicken salads and honey mustard grilled chicken wraps,” said Walcott. “The bottom line is that there’s an obesity epidemic in this city and our children have got to eat healthier meals. We are determined to create a sea change in our students’ eating habits, and that’s not going to stop this summer.”
The menu also includes milk, fruit, salads, turkey sandwiches and pizza.
“Summer meals are vital to ensuring that low-income children receive adequate nutrition in the summer months,” said New York City Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg. “We must increase the usage of federally funded summer meals for low-income students.”
Multiple methods for locating a summer meal site in the city are available to encourage participation. A map of summer meals sites across the city can be accessed atnyccah.org/summermeals. Families can also call 311 or text nycmeals to 877877.
Breakfast is served from 8 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. and lunch is served from 11 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Only lunch is served on the weekends and mobile food trucks are operating on the weekends only at Flushing Meadows. The DOE’s summer meals program, held by the Office of School Food, has been in operation for more than 30 years.