DOE’s Free Kosher-Meal Program Overlooks Forest Hills, Rego Park – Aronov

New York City launched a free grab-and-go meal program on March 16 at public schools across the five boroughs. (Shutterstock)

The city will offer free kosher grab-and-go meals at some schools — but none in the Forest Hills area, despite its large Jewish population.

FOREST HILLS, QUEENS — The city is adding kosher meals to its free grab-and-go meal program at select locations, but the program’s initial rollout this week doesn’t include any sites in a swath of central Queens that has the borough’s largest Jewish population.

Starting Thursday, the Department of Education will distribute kosher-certified meals at four schools in Queens. Two of those sites are in the same ZIP code in Far Rockaway, and another two are in Kew Gardens Hills, according to the agency’s website.

Yet the area that includes Forest Hills, Rego Park and Kew Gardens has the largest Jewish population of any region of Queens, according to a 2011 study by the UJA-Federation of New York, which appears to be the most recent report on New York City’s Jewish population.

That area is home to more than 60,000 Jewish residents, or just under a third of the borough’s Jewish population, the study says. In comparison, the area including Kew Gardens Hills and Fresh Meadows had about 42,000 Jewish residents and the Rockaways had about 23,000. (The neighboring Five Towns region in Nassau County accounted for another 25,000.)

“I don’t know why it was overlooked,” said David Aronov, a founding member of the Bukharian Jewish Union in Queens. “Having it completely left out of this initial rollout doesn’t make sense.”

Nathaniel Styer, a Department of Education spokesperson, said the neighborhoods were selected with the help of community advocates, though he didn’t respond to a request for clarification on who the advocates were and what neighborhoods they represent.

“This is the beginning of our roll out and we will continue to assess need for additional sites based on community demand for access to meals to fight food insecurity,” he said in an emailed statement to Patch.

In a Monday email announcement to reporters about the kosher-meal program, the Department of Education listed three sites in Far Rockaway and one central Queens site, though one of the Far Rockaway sites, P.S. 154, was labeled as Flushing/Kew Gardens.

The agency’s website, which the spokesperson said has the most up-to-date list, includes two meal sites in Kew Gardens Hills and two sites in Far Rockaway. As of Tuesday evening, P.S. 154 is not listed.

Aronov, who has helped deliver food to Jewish residents in central Queens during the pandemic, said the city should add a distribution site in Forest Hills at minimum. He said many Jewish residents in his community are “food insecure” and would benefit from the city’s service.

“They are looking for places to get food,” Aronov said.

The NYC Department of Education started providing kids with free grab-and-go meals on March 16, after Mayor Bill de Blasio ordered city schools to close amid the spread of the new coronavirus.

The program, which expanded at the start of April to serve adults, has given out about 4.5 million meals across 400 sites citywide, the agency said.

By Maya Kaufman, Patch Staff
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