Being fed in school is a right, not a privilege


Michelle Batres

This post circling around social media highlights the systemic issue of food inequity.

“If you were ever a lunch lady in a small public elementary school in East Orange, New Jersey. In the early ’80s & you snuck a small shy girl with blue eyes & bangs a peanut butter sandwich, on days she had no lunch money. Know I have loved you my entire life.” 

Disheartening, that’s the only word that comes to mind when I read this tweet. There should never be a time when a child has to sacrifice eating because they can’t afford it. Especially not at school, the very same place where they are supposed to be cared for and watched over.

How is a child supposed to focus in class when all they can hear is their own belly rumbling? Hunger pangs aching them. We should do better, regardless of whether or not the child can afford the food. That is not their fault. As a people, we need to do better.

Yes, we have Free and Reduced Meals, which is a start. But not every student who qualifies for free food has parents who will sign them up for it for a variety of reasons ranging from fear over immigration status to pride. And during the acute phase of the pandemic, meals were free for all students. But with that gone, students are going hungry again.

There should be no need for a lunch woman to have to SNEAK food to a child. Are we so inhumane that we can ignore the signs of distress in children? Even if the child shows no signs, if they’re not eating anything every day clearly people should at least ask if they’re okay. Sometimes all it takes is for someone to extend a helping hand.

Sadly, nowadays everyone is so scared of embarrassing themselves or offending someone that we use it as an excuse to opt out of being a half-decent person. Instead of saying “I don’t know them,” or “ They’re fine” just go up and ask them why they’re not eating. Even if they don’t want to tell you, at least you tried.

Oftentimes we see people paying for others’ bills and fares behind them in line as if that’ll do any good. But the reality is, even if these people pay the kindness forward, if they’re in line in Starbucks, they’re there because they can afford to buy their own coffee. Instead of paying for something they can afford, help someone who can’t help themselves: go to a local school and pay for overdue lunch accounts so that they can eat instead.

Try using your money in a way that someone truly benefits from it. Think about all the money you put into Starbucks, McDonald’s, or Chic-Fil-A and cut back just a little. Take that excess money and put it somewhere that’ll do some real justice, you never know whose day you’ve just improved. Remember, it’s the little things that count.

And to the decision makers in the county, state, and federal governments: make free meals for students a priority if you actually care about closing the achievement gap.

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