Building Healthy Communities

Project Title

Advocacy for Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids

Grant Amount


Priority Area

Building Healthy Communities

Date Awarded

December 30, 2015






In New York City, 75% of the 1.1 million public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch; however, one in three eligible students do not participate.

Although free lunches offer meals to students who need them most, many students skip it to avoid the stigma and bullying associated with the program. Universal School Lunch makes meals free for all students, delinks school food from family income, and removes the barrier to lunch participation. In 2014, Community Food Advocates (CFA) successfully advocated for Universal School Lunch for all students in New York City middle schools. In 2015, NYHealth awarded CFA a grant to work toward the systemwide implementation of Universal School Lunch throughout all New York City public schools.

Under this grant, CFA worked to ensure the streamlined implementation of the existing middle school free lunch program and expand free school lunch across the New York City school system. Specifically, CFA organized key Universal School lunch stakeholders, built coalitions, and produced policy materials. CFA identified, engaged, and trained students and parent leaders to advocate for Universal School Lunch. CFA also worked with school food staff to increase student participation in lunch programs by evaluating food and cafeteria appeal and menu selection. Additionally, CFA conducted school visits to identify best practices in schools with the highest participation rates, as well as barriers in those with low participation rates. CFA disseminated results to the New York City Department of Education, principals, school staff, and other stakeholders.