Coronavirus News: NYC school cafeterias averaging nearly 500,000 meals per day amid pandemic

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Throughout the country, schools have transformed into food hubs for families who might otherwise go hungry during this pandemic.

In New York City, the Department of Education has committed to providing meals to anyone in need across all five boroughs Monday through Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., at 475 schools.

Recipients do not have to have school-aged children and do not have to sign up in advance. The meals are provided no questions asked.

Vegetarian and halal meals are available at each site and kosher meals are available at select sites.

A department spokesperson indicated demand has increased roughly 3,365% since the pandemic began.

Spokesman Nathaniel Styer said on day one, cafeteria workers handed out about 14,000 meals citywide. Today, the school system is averaging about 485,000 meals a day.

P.S. 376 is the busiest school in Brooklyn.

According to staff, a team of about 10 people prepare and provide about 5,000 meals a day.

"It's not a normal day at this school at this time that is for sure. We've multiplied the work like ten times a regular day," food service manager Peggy Bobadilla said. "During this time cafeteria workers are being asked a lot and they have been doing it since day one. They have been doing it nonstop. The need has been growing on a daily basis and they have been keeping up with that demand."

Eyewitness News spent the morning with the team at P.S. 376. The staff arrived before 7 a.m. and began working. A line had formed before 7:30 a.m. and by 7:30 a.m. they were handing out meals to a steady flow of people.

"It's tiring but it's worth it," head cook Luis Mendoza Jr. said. "Seeing the people getting fed in this time we are living in, seeing them happy. It blesses me."

Bobadilla said the team has willingly skipped vacation days and left their own family to serve the community during this pandemic.

"It's our duty to New York City," Bobadilla said.

Individuals receiving the meals have said they're grateful.

"It's one less thing to worry about," said one man picking up a bag of food for his family.

"Thank God for this," said another woman grabbing food for herself and her grandchildren.

In many ways, these workers, across the city, have become something to count on each morning amid the pandemic.

Individuals in need of food can visit this searchable map of school sites serving as food hubs to find the nearest locations offering free meals. Anyone trying to locate a meal hub can also text "NYC FOOD" or "NYC COMIDA" to 877-877 for a list of the three nearest hubs based on their address.


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