Communication Issues Prevent Food Insecure NYC Families from Taking Advantage of Summer Meals Program

Summer can be hard for New York City kids who rely on school to provide at least one of their daily nutritious meals. That’s why the Department of Education’s 2019 Summer Meals Program, which began on June 27 and will end on August 31, is so important–it is designed to provide healthy, quality meals to more than 1,000 kids across the city who need them. However, Chalkbeat reports that information about the program is not well distributed, and as a result, food goes to waste while the need for it remains high.

According to Chalkbeat, the limited information the city provides about Summer Meals can be confusing and contradictory. The system designed to help people looking for food can direct them to Westchester or even New Jersey–meanwhile, less than 20 children showed up to a meal site in lower Manhattan last week. An estimated 348,500 children in the city live in households that are food insecure, according to Feeding America. The food insecurity rate for children in the city is nearly 11 percent higher than that for children nationwide. The Bronx is the most food insecure borough, where more than one in four residents, including more than one in three children, live with food insecurity.

“To find a neighborhood meal site, according to the envelope, parents can visit the education department’s online portal, text “NYCMEALS” to 877-877, or call 311. The department says there are 1,200 sites open throughout the summer, but acknowledges the website lists only 423 community-based centers,” Zipporah Osei writes for Chalkbeat. “ Of those, just 67 percent are open throughout the summer months. And many schools serving meals aren’t on the list at all.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer has created a task force aimed at improving the program and its communication. Searching for where to find meals yields weird results, as mentioned above, and an app developed for the same purpose glitches and is difficult to navigate. Other sites have the right information, but “when you’re a parent, you’re not going to go check the department of education site, then the parks department, then New York City Housing Authority,” Brewer said.

The DOE says it is aware of communication issues and is working to resolve them. Ida Ifill, who has been bringing her kids and other children in the neighborhood to get meals for seven years, says knowledge of the program occurs through word of mouth, it’s but not enough.

“We have to let people know about [the program] so people come, and they don’t shut it down,” she says.