The New York City (NYC) Department of Education is the largest public school system in the United States, with an enrollment of >1.1 million students. Students who participate in school meal programs can have higher dietary quality than nonparticipating students. Historically, family income documentation qualifying students in the NYC Department of Education for free or reduced-price meals reimbursed by the National School Lunch Program perpetuated poverty stigma. Additionally, National School Lunch Program qualification paperwork was a deterrent to many vulnerable families to participate and impeded all eligible children’s access to nutritious meals, potentially magnifying food insecurity. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 provided a viable option for schools to serve free meals to all students, regardless of income status, as a universal free lunch (UFL) through a Community Eligibility Provision if ≥40% of students already participated in another means-based program, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In this case study, we describe the processes of (1) strategic coalition building of the Lunch 4 Learning campaign (a coalition of students, parents, school-based unions, teachers, pediatricians, community leaders, and children’s advocacy organizations) to bring UFL to all NYC public schools, (2) building political support, (3) developing a media strategy, and (4) using an evidence-based strategy to overcome political, administrative, and procedural challenges. The Lunch 4 Learning campaign successfully brought UFL to all NYC public schools in 2017. This case study informs further advocacy efforts to expand UFL in other school districts across the country and national UFL advocacy.
The Campaign for Universal Free Lunch in New York City: Lessons Learned
POTENTIAL CONFLICT OF INTEREST: The authors have indicated they have no potential conflicts of interest to disclose.
FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE: The authors have indicated they have no financial relationships relevant to this article to disclose.
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Abigail Watts, Anna L. Araiza, Cristina R. Fernández, Leslie Rosenthal, Ileana Vargas-Rodriguez, Nathalie Duroseau, Liz Accles, Jessica Rieder; on behalf of the American Academy of Pediatrics New York Chapter 3 Committee on Nutrition and Obesity and the Community Food Advocates, The Campaign for Universal Free Lunch in New York City: Lessons Learned. Pediatrics October 2021; 148 (4): e2020049734. 10.1542/peds.2020-049734
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