Rachael Ray is usually concerned with what we’re eating—but this week, as she launches a campaign to help make sure all New York City public school kids have access to a free lunch program, she is focusing on kids and what they’re not eating.
“Any human, young or old, deserves the means to a nutritious meal,” Ray, 47, tells PEOPLE. “It’s scary to think that there are families and children that wake up in the morning and don’t know where their next meal is coming from.”
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So the celebrity chef, cookbook author and talkshow host started a change.org petition asking New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio to keep his commitment to provide free lunches to NYC public school kids, regardless of their family’s income. The petition has already garnered almost 30,000 signatures.
Ray—who launched her non profit Yum-o! in 2006—also works to empower kids and families to develop healthy relationships with food.
“NYC is my home, it’s my backyard… these are my neighbors,” she says. “For many kids, the lunch room is the only level playing field there is and the only time they will get a nutritious meal all day.”
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“I don’t like to see anyone struggle to put food on their table,” she adds. “Growing up, my family was not rich, but we lived a rich life: rich in the food we grew, cooked and ate. If I can use my voice to change the lives of kids and their families in NYC, or anywhere, I will do so.”
The Food Network star was inspired to start her petition after Mayor de Blasio only implemented universal free lunch for middle school students in 2014.
“He should stick to the campaign promises he made in 2013 — deeming universal free lunch as ‘crucial’ for all NYC public school students,” she says. “Who would say no to ending bullying, income stigma, and food insecurity that students face as a result of a school system that only offers free lunch for NYC’s poorest children?”