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School cafeterias provide free Thanksgiving meals to New Yorkers in need

New York City school cafeterias are serving free Thanksgiving meals as the coronavirus pandemic pushes food insecurity to record levels.
NYC education department/courtesy photo

New York City school cafeterias are trying to make sure families do not go hungry this Thanksgiving by handing out free turkey dinners.

Through Wednesday, roughly 1,000 school food sites are distributing a holiday meal with turkey and gravy, mashed potatoes, broccoli, buttermilk biscuit, apple slices, a cookie, and milk.

Schools throughout the five boroughs have become important food hubs, serving 65 million meals since the coronavirus first gripped the city in March, according to the education department. Hunger has long been a major concern in a school system where about 73% of students are from low-income families. But the economic fallout from the virus has pushed food insecurity to record levels in New York City.

One in four children is experiencing food insecurity, up 49% from before the pandemic, according to City Harvest. Community organizations are trying to bridge gaps, but many are overwhelmed: three-quarters of food banks have seen spikes in need, mostly from families with children, a NYC Hunger Conference report found.

Families with children can pick up multiple meals at any school site between 9 a.m. and noon on weekdays. Schools and additional sites are open to the general public from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. Vegetarian meals are available everywhere, and kosher and halal meals are also offered at some locations. You can search here for the meal site closest to you. Sites are closed on Thanksgiving day.

Though the pandemic forced school buildings to shutter systemwide this week, cafeterias remain open for anyone who needs food. No identification or documentation is required.

Liz Accles, head of the nonprofit Community Food Advocates, commended the city’s efforts to get meals to those in need, but said many families are still not aware of the anti-hunger efforts.

“The biggest challenge is making sure everyone knows, because we know the need is higher than those numbers,” she said.

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