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Free school lunch for all, NYC borough presidents insist

The argument for expansion to every city public school student is to end the stigma attached to the current program.
Free lunch for all?
NYC borough presidents push for universal free lunch. Credit: U.S. Department of Agriculture/Flickr

There could be such a thing as a free lunch … in New York City schools.

In a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio, all five borough presidents asked that money be put aside to expand the city’s free lunch program to all public school students and not just those eligible on the basis of family income.

The argument for expansion is to improve participation in free lunch consumption. The borough presidents noted a phenomenon in which qualifying kids don’t take the lunch they are entitled to, and often go hungry because they don’t want to reveal to their peers that they are poor.

“Students would, over time, feel less stigmatized by universal free lunch and would be able to study without hunger. Families would feel an immediate impact by not having to pay for lunch, or worry whether their child was receiving the proper nutrition they need,” the letter said.

Staten Island’s Jimmy Oddo, Brooklyn’s Eric Adams, Manhattan’s Gale Brewer, Queens’ Melinda Katz and the Bronx’s Ruben Diaz Jr. asked that for the expansion, $9 million be added to the $11.25 million being spent on a middle school pilot.

In the 2015-16 school year, more than three quarters of students qualified for free or reduced lunches.

Approximately one third of eligible students do not partake, particularly as they get older, according to Lunch 4 Learning program. Even in the poorest schools, the stigma of poverty, the possibility of bullying and being isolated in the lunch room are deterrents for eligible kids. Experts are adamant that proper nutrition is necessary for learning and concentration. 

While the mayor’s office said it is reviewing the possibility of universal free lunch, some officials point to the tepid outcome of a pilot program of free lunch in city middle schools.

“Universal Free Lunch was expanded and is now offered to over 350,000 students citywide. We are reviewing the possibility of expanding it to even more schools and are doing our due diligence to make sure resources are used wisely,” a representative for de Blasio told the Daily News.