Local 372 on the Frontlines of COVID-19 Feeding Kids and Seniors 

As DOE closed schools in response to COVID-19, it ordered kitchen staff to prep meals for kids. Local 372 President Shaun D. Francois I visits to hear workers’ concerns. Photos: Local 372

BY DIANE S. WILLIAMS 

One group of unsung heroes stepping up to help vulnerable New Yorkers during the global pandemic of coronavirus are Board of Education Employees Local 372 members.

“We are seeing 15 or more of our members working in poorly ventilated kitchens to feed kids. DOE has not provided protective equipment for them. I am outraged!” Shaun D. Francois I, said in a phone interview.

Last week he delivered 3,000 safety masks donated by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams to school kitchen workers, cooks, and Loaders and Handlers, who are preparing nutritious Grab and Go hot meals for thousands of school children and teenagers.

Grab and go meals packed and ready. Photo: Local 372

The meals are distributed at 400 public schools, down from 650 schools, in underserved communities in the five boroughs, Francois explained.

The City has expanded the food services program to also to feed seniors at dozens of Parks Dept. recreation centers.

Francois and Local 372 Executive Vice President Donald Nesbit are working to protect the health of their members and their families.

“We see our members working hard. They are worried. Social distancing cautions are sidelined in school kitchens as managers press workers to get it done,” Nesbit said.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent closing of NYC public schools in mid-March, the City has designated many DC 37 members essential workers, including school kitchen workers and crossing guards, some of the lowest paid public employees.

“They are working in the eye of a global tsunami, a health crisis of apocalyptic scale and have not backed away,” said Francois.

“COVID-19 puts our dedicated members on the frontlines of this battle. They are risking their lives and as a union we are fighting for them. The agency has not acted on all of our demands yet. So in the meantime the union is doing the work and protecting members’ lives and jobs,” said Francois.

In a weeklong blitz, Local 372 leaders organized distribution of donated masks to members working in 400 school kitchens across the city. Paul, a School Cook, wears his. Photo: Local 372

“We are going above and beyond to respond with masks, gloves, services and our presence to encourage and protect members as they continue to do their jobs protecting the lives of New Yorkers,” he said, “by feeding the most vulnerable — our seniors and our future, the children– during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Starting today, 3 free meals will be available for ALL New Yorkers in more than 400 Meal Hubs, Mon. through Fri. 

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