By Angelica Acevedo
Free breakfast and lunch is being served to kids 18-and-under at thousands of select sites in all five boroughs, as part of the city Department of Education’s Summer Meals program called SchoolFood.
“Eating a nutritious breakfast and lunch is essential to a child’s development, and the Summer Meals program helps ensure students return to school in September focused and ready to learn,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said. “This year, we are especially excited to partner with the NYPD to expand the program to Police Athletic Leagues sites across the city, ensuring more students have access to the healthy meals they need.”
This year’s program began June 29 and will last until Sept. 1, in an effort to serve more than 7.5 million meals from Monday through Friday. Participation in the program does not require any form of identification nor an application.
With over 1,100 sites — including public schools, community pool centers, libraries and parks — there is a place for all families to find free meals for their kids. Food trucks will also visit beaches, parks and community pools to hand out free lunches.
The initiative, which has been around for decades, has received support from many elected officials, including state Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Long Island City).
“The expansion of the summer meals program is essential for our students,” Nolan said. “I will continue to advocate for more sites at our schools, libraries and tenant associations.”
The program is just one step that the city is taking to feed children who live in food insecure homes. According to Hunger Free America, nearly one in six children in Queens lived in homes where they did not get enough to eat from 2013-2015.
At PS 166, 33-09 35th Ave. in Long Island City, the immediate community frequently gathers for their free meals.
According to Jessica Geller, the principal of the school serving pre-K to middle school, most days the school is visited by about 100 to 200 kids for breakfast and 150 to 200 kids for lunch.
Dianna Blake, a teacher who worked as a substitute assistant for the day but usually teaches in PS 16 at 41-15 104th St. in Corona, said she has been involved with SchoolFood for years now.
“Every site has to have a licensed teacher counting how many kids come, helping with cleanup and to supervise,” Blake said.
There are a few rules participants must follow when eating at the sites: No one is allowed to leave the site with food and smaller children must be supervised by an older guardian.
Blake also talked about the importance of the program, which she believes benefits many people.
“Parents depend on this program very much,” Blake said. “It’s more than just food and that’s very important for people to understand, especially with an ESL population.”
As the most diverse borough in the city and the country, there are approximately 29 percent of K-12 who that fall under the English as a Second Language category in Queens, according to the DOE.
Echoing Blake’s assertion, Geller said the program allows them to bring the youngsters together.
“We stress the socialization of it because the kids get to gather and talk with other kids,” Geller added.
Participants can find what SchoolFood will serve each day by visiting the website at www.schoo
The breakfasts served range from cheese omelets on a buttermilk biscuit with Upstate Farms strawberry banana yogurt and 100 percent fruit juice to whole grain croissants with grape jelly and seasonal fruits. The lunches served feature 100 percent beef cheeseburgers with Brooklyn baked beans as well as steak and cheese empanadas with brown rice.
And that’s just some of the meals they offer.
On July 18, PS 166 served turkey burgers with baked french fries, Frito-Lay chips and a fruit as the lunch special.
Tyla Williamson, a SchoolFood worker, said she enjoys working in the program.
“I like being around my co-workers and the kids get excited all the time, especially when we serve their favorites,” Williamson said.
Lunch was being served from 11:30 to 1:15 p.m. At about 12:30 p.m., the lunchroom was packed with about 75 kids from the PS 166 summer camp, other private summer caps in the area and some families in the community.
“It doesn’t stay quiet for long,” Geller said as she smiled and laughed while greeting some of her school’s summer camp kids.
Siblings Aamar and Manar Tirouda were among those in the school. Aamar is 13 and Manar is 8.
“We’ve been coming here for like a week now,” Aamar said.
Their father usually drops them off at the school and waits for them to finish eating by their parked car with a months-old baby.
The Tiroudas said they like going to the school and eating the free food, but this time they ran out of luck.
“I wanted the burgers and fries but we got here too late,” Manar said, while eating her peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Since it is first come, first serve, the day’s specials can disappear when there are popular menu items, such as the burgers and fries.
Another family that benefits from the SchoolFood program is Rose Moon and her 3-year-old son, who are residents of Sunnyside.
“I think it’s a wonderful service for our community. And for someone like him in his age group, it helps him get used to going to school even before he’s there,” Moon said. “He loves seeing all the big kids and being part of the action.”
Moon is a stay-at-home mother, and takes her son to $1 movie days at Kaufman Astoria Cinemas on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and then brings him to the school for lunch. She usually takes him to a site near their home for breakfast as well.
For Moon and her son, there are many pros about the program; however, she shared some cons about it as well.
“The quality could always be improved,” Moon said. “It would be great to see more of the food actually being produced in-house since sometimes the breakfasts are just like plastic bags that have been heated up with food inside of them.”
She added that she’d like to see a composting program to go along with it.
“They have a rule here that if you don’t finish the food in the cafeteria, you’re not allowed to leave with any of it, which is just a shame since a little guy like him ends up wasting a lot,” Moon said.
“Other than that though, it’s really been wonderful for us and I always try to get more families to come.”