Every summer, city education officials face the same problem: how to ensure that the hundreds of thousands of children who rely on free meals at school do not go hungry in July and August. Free breakfast and lunches are served in libraries, parks and at some pools. Kids can eat at summer school sites, too.
But over the past two summers, education officials discovered a new, surprisingly successful means of distributing meals — the NYPD.
"It's incredible the great partnership that we have with DOE," said Nilda Hofmann, the NYPD Chief of Community Affairs. "Our kids get to eat every single day."
The police department began serving the federally funded meals last summer at the 16 sites of the Summer Youth Police Academy, a six-week program that introduces 2,000 kids to the type of excercises and drills recruits do at the actual police academy.
The Youth Academy's goal is to build healthy relationships between officers and kids. Offering free meals was seen as a natural extension of that mission.
"They sit down with the kids, they talk to them, talk to them how their day is going," said Hofmann. "And I always say, breaking bread with kids is the best partnership we can have."
"These may be the first uniformed officers that the kids have relationships with," said Elizabeth Rose, CEO of school operations at the Department of Education, "And so we want to build a sense of community, we want to build a sense of relationship and trust because we know that is really important to student safety."
The partnership with the NYPD was so successful in its first year, it has expanded. Now, officers give children breakfast and lunch at a variety of events across the city all summer.
Last year, the police served 150,000 meals. This year, they expect to serve 200,000.
"I used to be a little weary with police officers. Like, if I saw one I'd be like, 'OK, I should stand straight, no sudden movements,'" said Nathaniel Santana, a high school student and Summer Youth Police Academy participant. "But now I see that they are just normal people, they're just here to help, doing their job, and I appreciate them a lot more."
All city kids under age 18 are entitled to the free meals, which will continue to be distributed until August 31. For locations, go to schoolfoodnyc.org.