One in five New York City children live in homes that can’t afford enough food. To combat this, free breakfast had been available in all New York City’s cafeterias before school, but only a third of the city’s kids who needed breakfast had been getting it, whether due to challenging morning schedules, lack of publicity, or the stigma of being seen in the cafeteria eating a free meal before school.
In New York State, currently more than 700,000 children live in households that can’t always afford enough food, according to federal data analyzed by Hunger Free America. However, only about half the state’s children who currently receive federally-subsidized school lunches also receive school breakfasts. This is due to stigma and logistical issues with the way school breakfasts are currently made available.
The state’s new breakfast law and funding are expected to dramatically increase school breakfast participation by ensuring that all public schools at which 70% or more of the children are eligible for subsidized meals will receive “Breakfast after the Bell,” usually in their first period classroom.
Serving breakfast to all students in their first period classrooms eliminates all these problems so more kids can start the day with a healthy meal. Studies show that kids who eat breakfast miss less school and have higher math test scores, which translates into more kids graduating from high school.
Eight years ago, Hunger Free New York City (formerly the New York City Coalition Against Hunger) launched a major campaign to get the City to ensure that all its students obtain the nutritious school breakfasts they need in order to learn, play, and grow up healthy and happy. We led a press conference on the steps of City Hall on a blistering August afternoon, pointing out that out of all the urban school districts across the country, New York City was consistently last or second-to-last in terms of providing school breakfast.
It was an uphill battle. The then-mayor was against it. The Department of Education’s bureaucracy wasn't advocating for it.
Hunger Free New York City took on this fight – and stayed at it for years. We organized low-income parents to speak out on behalf of their kids. We generated media attention. We produced policy reports detailing concrete, practical steps the City could take to expand breakfast. We engaged elected officials. We teamed up with partner organizations and progressive unions. And we enlisted the public’s help.
In 2015, we succeeded in convincing Mayor de Blasio and the City Council to bring in-classroom breakfast to most elementary schools. By fall 2017, the program will roll out in 530 schools, serving nearly 340,000 students daily, which could provide up to an additional 60 million breakfasts per year!”
Hunger Free NYC visited PS 18 in the South Bronx a few weeks after SchoolFood expanded breakfast in the classroom to the school. More than a third of kids in the Bronx live in food insecure households, and more than 90 percent of PS 18 students are eligible for free or reduced-price school meals. Before, when breakfast was served in the cafeteria before school, only about a third of the kids were eating it, but once the meal was served in the classroom, the number of kids eating breakfast there more than doubled. This one school will likely serve 50,000 additional breakfasts to low-income kids in just this school year.
Despite our effective work, 1.4 million people in New York City, including nearly half a million kids, still struggle against hunger.
That’s why we’re continuing to build on our breakfast in the classroom victory to get the City to expand this initiative from elementary schools to all middle and high schools, which would make breakfast more accessible to another 630,000 students. We won’t stop until all children have the nutritious food they need to grow up healthy and ready to learn.