Lunch 4 Learning

Free Lunch for 1.1 Million Public School Students in NYC

In New York City, 1 out of every 13 public school students lives in a homeless shelter or a location that is not their home. More than 75 percent of all children in the city’s public schools live below the poverty level. Other families earn moderately low incomes, making paying everyday bills a real struggle. Having access to nutritious meals throughout the school day is critical for students most affected by issues relating to poverty.

All too often, lines in schools are easily drawn based on which students receive a free or reduced-cost lunch, and which do not. In this environment, a shame-free lunchroom experience was difficult to come by for many kids in New York City. The Lunch 4 Learning campaign—led by the New York State Health Foundation and Community Food Advocates, in partnership with GSG—set out to change that.

Our campaign’s goal was to make Universal Free School Lunch available to all NYC public school students, regardless of income. In order to do this, we needed to demonstrate public support to pressure the Mayor to fund Universal Free School Lunch in the budget.

Our research showed that free lunch had overwhelming support from the public. Using this data, we organized a broad group of stakeholders to demonstrate their support and put pressure on public officials, and focused on elevating and supporting our stakeholders’ messages through a variety of channels, including media engagement, public rallies, mail, and digital and social media.

The increased media and public attention created by the campaign, which included a strong endorsement from the New York Times editorial board, effectively broke through to the Administration. After months of pressure and a successful media blitz leading up to the budget announcement, the City Council and Mayor de Blasio announced that an expansion of Universal Free School Lunch would be included in the budget for 2018. In September, it was announced that all schools and students would receive Universal Free School Lunch. That means that today, 1.1 million students in the NYC public schools eat lunch for free – a huge win for not only those students but also for their communities and the entire city.