Photo Courtesy of City Councilman Andy King’s Office
“This program will be a success if we do it right – which means elevating community voices, responding to feedback and organizing hand-in-hand with community leaders,” Comptroller Stringer said.
By Forum Staff
The City is looking to advance the City Council’s pilot kosher and halal school lunch program, Comptroller Scott Stringer said on Friday.
Stringer last week convened a coalition of Jewish and Muslim leaders, community advocates, and students to organize around expanding universal free school lunches to include kosher and halal food. The coalition met previously in May to review the pilot kosher and halal school lunch proposal prepared by Stringer’s office, which resulted in the council funding a pilot program in this year’s budget.
Both halal and kosher rules prohibit certain foods, such as pork and pork products, and require animals to be slaughtered and processed in a certain way under supervision.
The program is set to provide $1 million to fund kosher and halal lunches in four schools. To help facilitate a planned meeting with the City Department of Education, the comptroller’s office solicited feedback from stakeholders to, as Stringer said, ensure community input is taken into account as officials begin to consider implementation of the pilot.
“Our progressive values can’t end at the lunch line. All communities should be able to participate in public life throughout the City and that includes our Muslim and Jewish students,” the comptroller said. “Children shouldn’t be forced to choose between their religion and going hungry. And parents shouldn’t need to choose between spending extra money on school lunches and paying the rent. This program will be a success if we do it right – which means elevating community voices, responding to feedback and organizing hand-in-hand with community leaders.”
In his “Halal and Kosher School Lunch Pilot Proposal,” released in May, Stringer recommended that the City undertake a two-year pilot program to serve such meals in some schools.
“A pilot would provide a better understanding of the benefits, costs, and potentially hidden opportunities of such an initiative. Data gathered from the pilot should be used in assessing the feasibility of scaling such a proposal citywide,” he wrote.
The proposal noted that City officials and education advocates have reported that about one in eight public school students are Muslim and 38 percent of students are Muslim or Jewish, totaling roughly 430,000 children. Another 30,000 students attend non-public yeshivas in the five boroughs. While it is unknown how many of these students follow strict religious dietary customs that would prohibit participating in school lunch programs, it is possible that thousands of students in NYC do not participate in DOE-provided school lunch because of their religious beliefs.
This is significant for two key reasons, Stringer said: 1) the high prevalence of food insecurity among city students, and 2) the persistent, and growing, rates of discrimination against religious and immigrant groups.
“We can attest to the desperate need for kosher lunches to be available in the public and private schools in the borough,” said Cynthia Zalisky, executive director of the Queens Jewish Community Council. “Many of QJCC’s client families are low income and cannot afford the cost of private schools even though they are traditionally religious and therefore send their children to public school. Due to their religious tenets, the children cannot eat the school lunches at the present. Our concern is for these children to have a nutritious meal at school that will benefits their learning and achievement in the school setting,”