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Public Employee Press

With union help, city launches free school lunch program


School Lunch Aide and Local 372 member Laura McCrae prepares lunch.
Hall to make sure all students, regardless of their ability to pay, receive a hot meal at lunch time, free lunch will now be available to all of the city’s 1.1 million students.

“We are extremely proud to have played a role in making this happen,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido. “With this change in policy, learning just became easier for many kids in our schools.”

Garrido joined Chancellor Carmen Farina, Local 372 President Shaun D. Francois I, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Public Advocate Letitia James and activists from the Lunch 4 Learning coalition on Sept. 6 — the day before the beginning of the new school year — at PS 51 in Manhattan to announce the start of the new program.

“This is about equity,” Farina said at the press conference. “All communities matter.”

DC 37’s Local 372 represents school cafeteria workers and on the first day of class they noticed a substantial increase in the amount of students eating in the lunchroom.

“We got five or six phone calls from cafeteria workers at different schools,” said Donald Nesbit, vice president of the local. “They had so many kids they didn’t get a chance to take their lunch break.”

If the traffic continues in the cafeterias, the Dept. of Education may have to hire an additional 200-300 new cafeteria workers, Nesbit added.

The new initiative will provide hot lunches to an additional 200,000 students and save their families as much as $300 annually. Free breakfast is already available to all students.

New York now joins Boston, Chicago, Detroit and Dallas on the list of cities offering universal free lunch.

Many New York City children already qualified for free lunch but declined to fill out the required paperwork for fear of being identified as coming from a poor family.

While most of the paperwork has been eliminated, school officials said all parents, regardless of income, must still complete a school meals form so that their school gets access to federal funding for their program.

The form is available at the school’s main office or online at