A new summer meal program in New York City partially sponsored by the National Basketball Association (NBA) is bringing free lunches to children via food trucks.
"Ensuring the health of our children is our highest priority—and providing them with quality, nutritious meals is central to that," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "I am thrilled to see this partnership with the NBA continue, and I urge all New Yorkers to participate in this free city service."
The program is part of an initiative to ensure that children who benefit from free or reduced price lunches during the school year continue to receive lunch when school is out of session.
New York City's Department of Education began the initiative with one truck a few years ago. This year they have four that will bring free lunches right to the children who need it. The summer meals program as a whole began more than 30 years ago.
"By bringing the food to them we're able to extend our reach in ways that previously were unattainable," said Eric Goldstein, CEO of the department's Office of School Support Services.
Of the 1.1 million children in New York City who attend public school, 75% are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. In order to receive the benefit, participants must fill out paperwork.
While no paperwork is required during the summer months, and the 7.6 million lunches served during the summer in 2013 is up from the 7.1 million served the previous year, the number is still fewer than when school is in session.
Mobile lunch programs are cropping up around the country from Maryland to Texas to Florida. The YMCA in Hopkins County, Kentucky, uses a red pickup truck to bring healthy meals to its children during the summer months. About 700 children a day show up to the meal locations for free food.
However, New York City's mobile lunch program "most probably resembles a traditional food truck, perhaps more than almost anybody in the country," according to Josh Wachs, chief strategy officer for Share Our Strength.
In an effort to reach more people, the trucks are brightly colored with wording that promotes free meals. People can also text "nycmeals" to 877877 to find the location of the nearest food truck or dial 311. The trucks purposely do not include anything pertaining to the program being aimed at low-income students.
That's on purpose, Wachs said. "Having a food truck-style vehicle makes it fun for kids, and reduces the stigma often associated with free meals that has limited participation," he said.
So far this year, 4.4 million meals have been served, an 11% increase from last year.
Available until August 29, summer food trucks serve breakfast and lunch from a variety of locations, from pools and parks to libraries. Many childhood favorites are served, including pancakes, omelets, granola, bagels, tacos, salad, watermelon and chicken dippers. All meals are healthy and prepared without artificial colors or sweeteners.
"To be well read, children must be well fed. Summer meals not only reduce hunger and boost child health, but they also they help children retain educational achievement over the long vacation," said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. "That is why we are so grateful that key governmental, private, and nonprofit partners are all working together to boost participation in this vital, federal-funded program."