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Public Employee Press

Calls on mayor to keep promise: Union rallies to back universal free school lunch

Local 372 Executive VP Donald Nesbit, along with other DC 37 leaders, called on Mayor de Blasio to act on his promise to provide universal free school lunches for NYC schoolchildren at a rally in front of City Hall on Nov. 16.

What do schools in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Detroit and Dallas offer their students that New York City does not? The answer: a free hot lunch.

In those cities, students and their parents are not required to fill out forms to verify their incomes and eligibility to receive a free lunch. All students are eligible and, more importantly, are free from being singled out by other students for eating a free lunch.

To address the issue and make sure every student receives a hot lunch, a coalition of food activists in New York City is advocating for universal free school lunch.

“In our school lunchrooms, many students don’t get on line because they are afraid to get caught eating ‘free-free’ as it’s known in our world,” explained Aminata Abdouramane, a Lunch 4 Learning youth leader. “The students are basically labeled as outcasts.” Lunch 4 Learning is a coalition-based campaign working to make free and healthy meals available to all New York City public school students, regardless of income.

As a mayoral candidate, Bill de Blasio also advocated for a universal free school lunch. Now activists want Mayor de Blasio to deliver on his promise.

District Council 37’s Local 372, which represents school cafeteria workers, is also part of the coalition supporting universal free school lunches. Donald Nesbit, executive vice president of Local 372, joined union members and coalition advocates on the steps of City Hall on Nov. 16 to call for expanding the lunch program.

Nesbit worked in school cafeterias for a dozen years and frequently went into his pocket to lend students money to buy lunch.

“I wasn’t the only one who did that,” he said at the City Hall press conference. “Others did too and got in trouble for doing it.”

Lunch 4 Learning estimates that at least 47,000 additional students will take advantage of the free lunches if the program is expanded.

Funding from the federal government and the city’s Dept. of Education school lunch program budget helps fund 35 percent of the schools that do offer the free lunch. Activists want de Blasio to increase the budget so all schools can offer free lunches to their students.

“Mayor de Blasio understands the moral imperative to feed hungry school kids and help them succeed academically,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido. “He initiated and expanded the school breakfast program. Now we urge him to expand free school lunch to all public school students.”