Coronavirus News: 7 On Your Side Investigates student need for school lunch program

Wednesday, March 25, 2020
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Danielle Leigh investigates the student need for school lunch programs in the Tri-State area.

NEW YORK (WABC) -- Nationwide millions of students living in poverty rely on the federal government for a free or reduced price lunch.

According to the USDA, more than half of all public school students rely on the program.

Educators say, for many of those students, the meals provided at school may be the only meal those students get to eat in a day.

Food insecurity played a significant role in superintendents' and mayors' hesitance to close schools as the coronavirus first started to spread throughout the U.S.

"There are so many parents that depend on our schools for meals for their children," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said before ultimately closing schools as the threat of coronavirus increased.

"It's a challenge here in the district. We know that poverty impacts our children," Ossining School District Superintendent Raymond Sanchez said.

Around the country, school districts forced to close amidst COVID-19 have now transformed cafeterias into assembly lines making grab and go lunches for kids.

The 7 On Your Side Investigates data team gathered federal school lunch program records from the National Center for Education Statistics to see how the need varied by school district in the Tri-State area.

In 2018, the latest year in which data is available, more than one out of two students in New York State relied on the federal school lunch program.

In New Jersey and Connecticut, just over one out of three students relied on free or reduced price lunches.

In one district in Bushwick, New York City; about 87% of the students qualified for a free or reduced price lunch.

Places like Ossining, had a smaller percentage of students relying on the program but had seen the need among students roughly double in the last decade.

The education data indicated other districts in New York State such as Scarsdale and Croton Harmon had no students who qualified for the lunch program.

The challenges with food insecurity that communities are facing amidst the coronavirus vary greatly, and in many cases, city and state leaders predict, it is likely to get worse as more and more people find themselves out of work.

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