Assemblymember Harvey Epstein helps distribute holiday meals to Lower East Side students

Parents waited on line with their children at PSS/MS 188 to receive a free holiday meal bag on Dec. 23.
Photo by Dean Moses

For the first time in nearly a year, PS/MS 188 School was brimming with life on Wednesday morning, but unfortunately, this was not due to filled classrooms.

In place of young schoolers playing, a line wrapped around the outer walls of PS/MS 188 as families waited with carriages at their feet and children in their arms to receive an abundance of free food and even a few toys.

Bread lines have become a common sight in recent months throughout Manhattan and the outer boroughs, but their frequency does not make them any easier to digest. The hardships wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic are as difficult as ever with the advent of the holiday season. In an effort to alleviate a modicum of the current climate’s economic pressure, Assemblymember Epstein joined NYC District 1 and Chobani to distribute meal bags for the holiday season.

Assembly member Harvey Epstein and Chobani staff helped distribute about 1,000 meal bags to families in need this holiday season to over 20 schools in District 1. Photo by Dean Moses

Since Monday, Chobani has worked with 20 schools in District 1 to prepare about 1,000 holiday meals to locations where a number of the students reside in temporary housing. The food and housing insecurity has become so dire during this global crisis that in some cases more than 100 students within a single school live in shelters/temporary housing. During this time of giving, Chobani and Assemblymember Harvey Epstein hope to bring a little joy to these children and their families.

A host of tables were erected, each one providing a different food item, from bread and Oreos to boxes of Chobani yogurt. This wasn’t all though. Small boxes of toys were also distributed to students to ensure they had at least one gift this holiday.

Esther Zito, School secretary for PS/MS 188, says that working within a school is more than focusing on a child’s education–it’s about their well-being mentally, physically, and their education. Holiday treats such as a Christmas tree are not at the forefront of some of these parents’ minds due to food insecurity. 

Esther Zito, School secretary for PS/MS 188, was happy to take part in the holiday meal bag distribution. Photo by Dean Moses

“We have at least 70% students in temporary housing, which means shelter families that not may necessarily be in a shelter but they could be doubled up or they don’t have their own home basically,” she said, adding “We coordinated this event so that we can give a happy holiday to our families because a lot of these families can’t even go out and get a meal for Christmas well it let alone a meal just for dinner.”

Zito says that schools have been a safe haven for children in need long before the pandemic, providing them breakfast and lunch during the school year and summer. With the revolving door of school closures and openings, families have not had this continuous stability. Currently, PS/MS 188 is offering five days of in-school learning, however, the impact of COVID has exacerbated their students’ living situations more than ever.

“Some of the kids are not going to get anything under their tree. They may not even have a Christmas tree, so it’s difficult,” Zito said.

In addition to holiday meal bags, families also received toys to give to their children for the holiday season. Photo by Dean Moses

The holiday meals distribution is not the only project Chobani has partnered with District 1. They have also held virtual field trips, informing students about the New York dairy industry, providing digital cooking lessons, and more to provide engaging programming for future career opportunities.

One parent, Fhamara, is extremely appreciative of the work PS/MS 188 has done for the community so far. “We are going through a pandemic, and we are going through a second wave, and I haven’t seen any other school that has done so much community work for families. They have been giving out produce, gift cards, and resources for families. This is just absolutely amazing,” Fhamara said happily.

Volunteers distributed boxes of Chobani yogurt, bread, and produce to families. Photo by Dean Moses