Enfield Elementary Leaders Harrington and Grainger Rally in Albany to End School HungerWhen federal meal waivers expired in June of 2022, more than 726,000 New York State students lost access to free school meals. Among those impacted were ICSD students and families, which, in part, prompted the ICSD’s effort to prioritize healthy learners by providing meals for a student if they request one, regardless of whether they have the ability to pay.
A bill proposed in May would provide all students with free lunches, yet it did not pass. Still, according to Feeding America, 1 in 7 children in New York experience hunger. This month, students, school leaders, and lawmakers traveled to Albany to call on Governor Kathy Hochul to fund free school meals for all New York students in the 2024 budget.
Enfield Principal Keith Harrington and Associate Principal Aileen Grainger represented the ICSD on the Million Dollar Staircase alongside members from the Food Bank of the Southern Tier and spoke with Assemblymember Anna Kelles and Senator Lea Webb.
While Enfield Elementary already hosts free breakfast and lunch for all students due to a Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), Harrington and Grainger advocate for Governor Hochul to follow in step with several other states who have recently expanded universal free meal access. The projected annual cost for New York to provide free food for all PreK-12 students is between $187.3 to $201 million. The estimated savings for New York State families who are currently paying for school meals would be $140/month per child.
“There is a direct connection between access to healthy meals and student performance,” Grainger said. “We’re so fortunate to be partnered with the Food Bank of the Southern Tier; we have a grocery in our Welcome Center full of both perishable and non-perishable food. Kids and teachers can access it, and every class visits at least once a week. In addition to de-stigmatizing access, it’s helping kids figure out what they like eating.” Enfield’s efforts are slowly being mirrored across the district, with programs such as Ithaca High School’s Community Closet looking to install a grocery soon.
According to NYSUT, “Existing programs in New York leave far too many behind, including families struggling to make ends meet while hovering just above the income limits for free school meals and kids who qualify, but hesitate to eat, due to stigma and shame associated with providing free meals to only certain students.”
Providing free meals for students regardless of income is a crucial first step toward improving food security and ending stigmatization. To learn more about the Healthy School Meals for All Proposal, please visit hungersolutionsny.org. For more details on the ICSD’s nutrition commitment, visit ithacacityschools.org/nutrition.