By Greg B. Smith, Originally published in THE CITY.
Mayor Bill de Blasio is considering handing out free meals to adults for the asking after his plan to supply students with breakfast, lunch and dinner while school is out collided with statewide warnings to stay home, THE CITY has learned.
With demand among students significantly lower than expected, City Hall is working on a new plan to distribute meals to any adult who shows up to a select list of schools, officials confirmed Wednesday night.
An internal email obtained by THE CITY indicates the new set-up could start as early as Friday.
While other school districts were shutting down three weeks ago as the coronavirus spread nationwide, de Blasio initially balked at closing his million-student public system. He argued that financially struggling families rely on meals provided at schools.
He reversed course March 16, closing the schools but continuing to offer the free meals at select school buildings. Parents and students can go to more than 460 schools citywide during certain hours and pick up breakfast, lunch and dinner every day during the school week.
But Department of Education statistics obtained by THE CITY show that after an initial bump, demand has fallen precipitously. The program peaked at 199,483 meals distributed on March 19.
Then it dropped to 159,635 last Friday, before hitting a low of 81,050 on Monday, when it rained. The figure rose to 111,887 Tuesday and 115,865 on Wednesday.
That’s far below the nearly 600,000 meals distributed daily when schools are open.
‘This Is Insane’
In an email to Teamsters Local 237 President Gregory Floyd, who represents Department of Education food service employees, a supervisor from Brooklyn school District 16 mapped out the city’s new plan.
She informed Floyd that she’d participated in a conference call Wednesday with her DOE bosses who told her “starting Friday or no later than Monday we are now going to feed any adult off the street.”
“This is insane,” she added.
Jane Mayer, a City Hall spokesperson, declined Wednesday to discuss the plan to allow adults to pick up free school meals.
But she noted Kathryn Garcia, the Sanitation Department commissioner de Blasio tapped last week as the city’s “food czar” during the crisis, was appointed “to ensure no New Yorker goes hungry during this crisis. She is hard at work exploring every option to achieve this goal.”
The possible switch to providing meals to adults, though, is infuriating the workers assigned to hand out the food. Floyd said they say they haven’t been given masks or any other form of protective equipment.
City officials say the “grab and go” procedure at schools for parents and students to pick up meals limits interaction with staff. Food service workers place the food on a cart, where family members pick it up and leave.
There is no physical interaction, they said, and all staff and parents are advised to diligently practice social distancing.
‘They Don’t Have Masks’
Still, Floyd called de Blasio’s reasoning for implementing the free food program flawed from the start.
“The mayor miscalculated in his thought process on keeping schools open because children would use the schools for lunch programs,” Floyd said. “The reality is, the children are not coming up in the numbers they thought they would.”
“People are staying home and social distancing,” he added. “Food is being wasted in the schools because they have to throw it away and rather than close the kitchen down as any prudent person would do. He’s now reverting to feeding adults.”
As of Wednesday, Floyd said at least one food service worker has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus.
“They don’t have masks, gloves or hand sanitizers,” he said.