Neither summer school enrollment nor application is required for children 18 and under to stop in for a free summer meal at any one of the 1,000 sites all over the city – ongoing through Aug. 29, 2014 – as the program provides both breakfast and lunch.
Gooden said after growing up in inner city Tampa in the late 1970’s, a time period he said he still remembers well, he has found it necessary to reach out to kids in the same predicament for inspiration.
“It’s always good for me to give back,” Gooden said. “I was put in a good position to play Major League Baseball and live out my dream, and after doing that, you never forget where you come from.”
Gooden met with hundreds of children at the school and joined representatives of the American Dairy Association for a raffle and Yankee-ticket giveaway.
“When I got called about taking part in an event like this, which is great to promote healthy eating and awareness for the kids, I was more than happy,” he said. “This is all about the kids.”
The federally funded program also preaches healthy living at the schools, parks and libraries all over the city from Monday through Friday.
“The department provides the meals, so they meet those nutrition guidelines throughout the year,” said NYC Summer Meals coordinator Brenda Beltram.
She added that while the program is currently “a little underutilized,” they have teamed up with the New York Yankees this summer for dozens of outreach stops with baseball legends like Joe Girardi, Mickey Rivers and Cecil Fielder to help spread the word.
“We want the players to come out to sites and reward the kids for eating healthy,” she said. “We’re giving away some merchandise and some game tickets to get them a little excited.”
Deborah Otto, principal of P.S. 223, said her school has opened their doors to the NYC Summer Meals program for nearly 30 years, inviting nearly 400 children from home and their daycare providers every day in the midst of their own afterschool programming.
“You definitely need this,” Otto said. “Parents are on limited income, so this helps supplement what they might be able to put towards another bill.”
As for having a baseball legend like Doc Gooden in her school, Otto said there is no better way to raise the excitement level at her school.
“I know for a fact that one of my fifth graders will go home, and go on her brother’s iPhone and resource everything on him,” she said. “So it’s very healthy.”