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Department of Education makes free meals few and far between for students

Jade Olivia Earle Special to the AmNews | 8/8/2011, 3:37 p.m.

Free meals are becoming harder to come by for New York students, who may not have access to much food in the first place.

The Department of Education (DOE) has reduced the number of locations serving free meals for students this year. With 372 locations available this summer, the number has decreased by 22 percent from last year.

The decision stems from the DOE's overall budget decrease of $10.8 million from the state's school food budget.

Councilman Charles Barron has a big problem with the cut.

"That's a disgrace. That the mayor and the Department of Education's Dennis Walcott don't want to put $10.8 million to feed our children?" Barron said. "First, you snatch their summer jobs-you cut that in this Walmart scheme."

In addition to cuts to the free meal program this year, the state also cut support for the Summer Youth Employment Program. In response, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Walmart announced a $5 million pledge to the program on Tuesday.

Overall, the recent cut in youth programs-specifically the reduction of locations providing free meals-affects residents and their children, who may have to travel further as a result.

"You take the food out of the mouths of babes," Barron said. "How can you not feed our children when you have $66 billion dollars and the Department of Education increased their contracting budget by $700 million?"

The DOE reviews locations every year and makes changes to reflect where students gather, according to DOE spokeswoman Marge Feinberg. In Brooklyn, the DOE determined that students would still be able to still get food from different locations within the borough.

"In the vicinity of P.S. 306 in Brooklyn, we are serving meals to any child who walks in at two polls, three housing project complexes and J.H.S. 166, which is a block from P.S. 306," Feinberg stated. "We also are serving free meals at P.S. 13 and I.S. 292, which are also close by."