BY MIKE LEE
Local 372 is working with a coalition to secure healthy school lunches that meet the religious requirements of observant Jews and the city’s growing Muslim student population.
On Sept. 6, along with other DC 37 leaders and activists, Local 372 Executive Vice President Donald Nesbit spoke out at a press conference on the City Hall steps in support of the effort.
“We need to provide halal and kosher food in our schools,” Nesbit said.
“I was a cook in the schools for 17 years,” Nesbit said. “I know first-hand what it is like to see children hungry and to leave the lunch room without eating. You can see it in their expressions and they can’t function and learn during the day.”
Several Muslim students joined the press conference. They spoke of going hungry because their schools are unable to provide halal school lunches.
Tasheef Chowdhury, a student at Stuyvesant High School, spoke of the problems he faces as a practicing Muslim to meet his religion’s dietary requirements in the school system.
“I have spent my elementary, middle and high school years struggling to find food that I can eat,” he said. “You can only eat so many peanut and jelly sandwiches over and over again.”
Teachers, community and religious activists, along with Mazeda Uddin of the South Asian Fund for Education, Scholarship & Training (SAFEST), spoke at the press conference. SAFEST is an advocacy organization for immigrants and has led the fight on behalf of immigrant students.
“The parents of many of these children work for the minimum wage, trying to make ends meet, and struggle to give their children a proper diet on a daily basis,” said Uddin, the wife of Local 1407 President and DC 37 Treasurer Maf Misbah Uddin, who also attended the press conference.
Also present were city Public Advocate Letitia James, city Comptroller Scott Stringer, as well as City Council members and state legislators.
They called on the state to support proposed legislation introduced by state Sen. Tony Avella for schools to ensure halal and kosher is available at city schools, where 25 percent or more students belong to a religious faith that has dietary restrictions.
Queens state Assembly member David Weprin supports a companion bill to the state Assembly that the lunch advocates also back.
“It is time for the city schools to provide halal and kosher food,”Weprin said. “This is a diverse city and school system, and the time is now to move forward in implementing a program as the school year begins. Muslim students are currently 13 percent of the current student population in the city’s primary and secondary schools.”