City Harvest summer campaign feeds over 11,000 children and families

The nonprofit’s “Share Lunch. Fight Hunger,” campaign comes as access to free school lunches is limited.

A child at the Sunset Park Mobile Market

A child at the Sunset Park Mobile Market Paul Frangipane

City Harvest, New York’s first and largest food rescue organization, has raised enough to help feed over 11,000 New York City children and their families through its annual “Share Lunch. Fight Hunger,” campaign. The campaign, which officially closed on May 17th but continues accepting donations through June 30th, invites New Yorkers to help feed the city’s children and families for the summer, during which access to free school lunches is limited. 

By distributing food received from a dearth of regional and national donors through its network of over 400 emergency food providers across five boroughs, City Harvest’s spring campaign comes at a time when more than half of New York City households with children struggle to make ends meet amidst rising child poverty rates. 

According to City Harvest’s “The State of Child Hunger in NYC” analysis, families with children are visiting New York City soup kitchens and food pantries 100% more than pre-pandemic levels: over a 1 million average monthly visits to food pantries, soup kitchens and community food programs – the largest increase of any age group. According to the study, 63% of households with children are struggling, indicating a 66% year-over-year increase in child poverty rates since 2022. According to Feeding America’s newest food insecurity report, 1 in 4 New York City children are experiencing food insecurity, with the highest levels felt in the Bronx, with 20% of the population facing food insecurity, followed by Brooklyn at 15.2%, Manhattan at 14.9% and Queens 12.5%. 

Central to this food scarcity crisis is affordability, as families with children juggle increasing living costs from food, housing and childcare—all of which are aggravated during the summer holidays when children face a harder time accessing free school meals and activities. 

“People all across New York City are struggling with the high cost of essentials like food and rent, and we know that families with children have been particularly hard hit, in part due to the high cost of childcare,” said Jilly Stephens, CEO of City Harvest.

Another challenge is that free school meals are only provided at schools under the department of education and thus may not be in close proximity to most children in need. 

“There's a number of reasons why that might be challenging,” Jerome Nathaniel, director of policy and government relations at City Harvest told New York Nonprofit Media. “Children are required to consume or eat the food on site in order for the school to be reimbursed for the meal. So during the summer months, a New York City kid might be on the go and would want to grab a meal, but the way that summer meals are set up, in order to have that meal, you have to sit in the cafeteria and eat before you can leave.” 

This summer, the city aims to afford more flexibility in helping children access food through its Summer EBT initiative, which will provide children with debit cards to purchase food. 

“Basically, it takes the cost of a school meal, which comes out to somewhere about $4 and it allocates that on an EBT card, if you're already enrolled into SNAP or not,” Nathaniel explained.  “So long as your child is enrolled in a school that has free school meals – that means any child in a public school or in an education program that participates in the City School Meals program, would be able to access these cards, and they’ll be able to use it the same way as SNAP benefits at a grocery store, shop or farmer’s market.” 

According to City Harvest, while the city’s child hunger rates are rapidly increasing – it isn’t clear how much this pressure can be credited to the growing number of asylum seeker families with children. New Yorkers can help by taking part in City Harvest’s “Feed Our Kids Food Drive”, which will run through June 16.