Here’s how NYC families can find free summer meal sites

A group of girls, all wearing pink, eat together in a school cafeteria.
This year, New York City has served more than 3 million free summer meals, according to the city’s Education Department. (José A. Alvarado Jr. for Chalkbeat)

For many New York City families, the summer months come with added stress, as kids are out of schools where free meals are provided each day. 

Across the five boroughs, free summer meal sites are working to alleviate that concern — and thanks to a texting service, families can quickly find the nearest site for their children. So far, the city has served more than 3 million meals, a pace matching last year, according to the city’s Education Department.

Summer meals are offered at a range of public schools and other community sites, serving free breakfast and lunch to anyone 18-years-old or younger. Other locations include city pools, parks, camps, nonprofit organizations, and more.

Families can text “FOOD” (or “COMIDA” for a Spanish-language service) to 304-304 to receive a list of the nearest free meal sites. No registration, documentation, or identification is required to access free meals.

The texting service comes from No Kid Hungry, a national campaign of the organization Share Our Strength. It compiles information from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, state agencies, and school district websites, giving families convenient options nearby, according to a spokesperson for the campaign.

Families can also search city sites using an education department search tool.

Hunger issues have continued to impact families in the city, with nearly three-quarters of New York families reporting it was harder to afford groceries this past year, according to a recent No Kid Hungry poll.

In a statement, Rachel Sabella, director of No Kid Hungry New York, called the free meals program a “critical lifeline” for struggling families.

The texting service also includes information about how to get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits, which if eligible can provide families with additional monthly funds for food. The city, however, has been the subject of a lawsuit over delays in processing SNAP benefits.

Free summer meals will be offered at city sites until Sept. 1. Meals must be eaten on site at most locations, though some allow pick-up.

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Across the summer months, the city typically serves more than 7 million meals, schools Chancellor David Banks said at a press conference last week.

“We serve at parks and pools and schools,” he said. “Wherever the people are, our office of school food nutrition is there responding to the need.”

This summer, New York City public school families will also receive $120 per child in pandemic food benefits, according to state officials.

Julian Shen-Berro is a reporter covering New York City. Contact him at jshen-berro@chalkbeat.org.

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