Harlem Children’s Zone: NYC Food Based Community Organization Spotlight

by Alexina Cather, MPH

What they do: Harlem Children’s Zone is a community organization that provides a comprehensive network of programs around education, culture, social and health services to more than 25,000 children and adults in Central Harlem. The aim is to disrupt the cycle of generational poverty by providing individualized support to get children through college and help them become productive, self-sustaining adults.

How they do it: The organization works with children from birth through college, offering a pipeline of programs to optimize a child’s progress at each stage of their development. HCZ also works to strengthen the adults and community surrounding the children.

Mission: “Harlem Children’s Zone is committed to breaking the cycle of poverty in Central Harlem by working at scale to build community, strengthen families, and ensure our children succeed from birth through college graduation.”

Latest project/campaign: “What Children Need Is…You!” social media campaign to generate thoughts about what children need and how to fulfill their potential and create a conversation about it.

Major Funding: Government Grants, Private Support, Events.

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit

Annual budget: More than $120 million

Interesting fact about how they are working to positively affect the food system: In 2015, the Healthy Harlem initiative worked with more than 7,000 students, making sure they had daily physical activity and weekly nutrition education, including fun activities like “two-bite” taste tests for pre-schoolers and healthy recipe cook-offs for older students and parents. More than 3,000 adults participated in fitness and cooking classes, support groups, and subsidized farmers markets. The Food Services team prepared 1.45 million healthy, nutritious meals, all low in fat, salt, and sugar and 96 percent from scratch


Location: Manhattan

Core Programs: Education, academic support, two charter schools, afterschool programs for traditional public school students, community centers, access assistance to government resources, free tax prep program, family preventive programs to avoid foster-care placement, HEALTH: Healthy Harlem (nutrition education and physical-fitness activities), Harlem Armory (facility that provides a wide-range of activities and fitness and nutrition classes) and HCZ Food Services (provides healthy breakfast, lunch and a snack each school day to more than 2,000 HCZ students).

Number of staff: 2,000 plus

Number of volunteers: 0

Areas served: Central Harlem

Date started: 1970

Director: Anne Williams-Isom, Chief Executive Officer

Contact information: info@hcz.org, (212) 360-3255

Photo credit: Harlem Children’s Zone

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