New York City Kosher Meal Rollout ‘Disastrous,’ Say Officials

After the Midwood location ran out of food, a sign instructed people to go to Madison High School – a non kosher location. (Constituent-submitted to Councilman Kalman Yeger)

Jewish New Yorkers excited for the first day of city-sponsored kosher meals were in for a rude welcome Thursday, as meals arrived late and ran out quickly, according to local elected officials and community leaders.

The city says it will be purchasing more than double the number of meals by next week, as demand Thursday was higher than expected.

As the coronavirus pandemic struck a severe blow to the economy, the city Education Department began distributing three free “Grab & Go” meals per day, Monday through Friday, at select public schools to New Yorkers of all ages, with vegetarian and halal options available, but not kosher. After weeks of advocacy by Jewish organizations and elected officials, the city this week added ten kosher-only locations in Brooklyn and Queens.

But when the program kicked off at most locations Thursday, the results were appalling, according to officials who spoke with Hamodia.

At the one Boro Park location, the food did not arrive on time, as over 100 people waited on line, according to a staffer at the office of Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein who fielded calls from a number of frustrated constituents.

City Councilman Kalman Yeger said that many people at the Boro Park site were told that since the food hadn’t arrived yet, they should instead go to the one Midwood site. Meanwhile, the food at the Midwood site ran out quickly, at which point a sign was placed on the door instructing people to go instead to Madison High School – a non-kosher location.

“It is clear that there is an enormous need among kosher-observant New Yorkers, a need that the city is not meeting,” said a statement by Eichenstein, Yeger, Councilman Chaim Deutsch and state Sen. Simcha Felder. “The Administration must immediately expand the Grab & Go program to include more sites, and ensure that the sites are well stocked to meet the public’s need.”

The kosher meals distributed in Queens. (Sergey Kadinsky)

In Central Queens, a kosher location ran out of food by 10:30 a.m., Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal tweeted.

“This entire thing has been disastrous from the beginning,” Rosenthal told Hamodia. “First, the city for weeks ignored our calls to have kosher meals. Then, when they finally give kosher meals, they put them in a public school in Queens that is not even in the Jewish neighborhood, rather than asking the Jewish community which locations would be convenient for them. And then finally, today, the ultimate insult, when people actually showed up and waited in line for desperately needed meals, many were turned away empty-handed.”

According to Rosenthal, only one of the two kosher locations in Central Queens is in a Jewish neighborhood, while there are other public schools that are in more convenient locations for the Jewish community.

Community leaders in Crown Heights and Williamsburg also told Hamodia that the two kosher locations in each of their neighborhoods are not centrally located for the Jewish community, while there are other public schools right in middle of Jewish neighborhoods.

While the kosher meals rolled out Thursday in most neighborhoods, Williamsburg started Tuesday. Sam Stern, a Williamsburg community activist, said that on Tuesday there were also an insufficient number of meals, but by the following day, the situation had improved, and all those who came were able to obtain food.

Education Department spokesman Nathaniel Styer told Hamodia that the kosher sites “were selected based on consultation with community leaders, and our team is doing everything possible to meet the needs of all New Yorkers who are facing food insecurity during the COVID crisis, including our most vulnerable Jewish communities. We’re proud to provide this vital service, and have already worked with our kosher supplier to more than double the number of kosher meals available at DOE Grab & Go sites by Monday.”

The Department is also assessing the demand for additional sites as the program continues.

Community leaders say they hope to indeed see a speedy improvement.

“People need food – quickly, properly, and with dignity,” said Rosenthal. “I hope the city gets its act together – and fast.”

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