District policy in my area states that students – all students – are to be given a lunch. What I failed to realize was the quality of the lunch is far more important than being able to state, “every child will receive a lunch”.
Imagine my surprise upon discovering the number of students at my school, Samuel Tucker Elementary School, that have gone without a hot lunch on a consistent basis. If the students do not have the funds in their account to pay, then their lunch is taken and exchanged with a cheese sandwich. If a student had a negative balance–even a few cents–they again are given a cold cheese sandwich and milk. This was happening every day to too many of our students.
On top of the denigrating process of the hot lunch being exchanged for a cheese sandwich, parents of these students were still charged for the cheese sandwich lunch! Families have to bring their account current before eating a hot lunch again. Thus, the same $5 that would buy a weeks’ worth of lunch before the negative balance, may now only last a day, if at all.
Once the PTA board became aware of the situation, we decided to take action and worked diligently with our principal to reach a solution. PTA board members met with our Principal and cafeteria staff to coordinate the creation of a PTA Emergency Lunch Fund (ELF), funded strictly by donations, which will pay for any student’s lunch when they are unable to pay and also prevent the student’s account from becoming negative.
School administration staff will monitor ELF use and take appropriate action to notify the parents if necessary and/or make appropriate referrals for families in need. Instead of a simple notice being relayed from cafeteria staff to parents through students, we created an effective notice system that removes the child from being in the middle.
The estimate to sustain the program is $900 per school year. That is the redline or the negative monthly balance of our students last year. So far, we have received several donations from staff and parents. Several Tucker students organized a “Bake Sale” during a local community yard sale, with proceeds going toward the ELF. The school’s Brownie troop presented the PTA board with a check as well to contribute. Several other families have also pledged donations and all help is greatly appreciated.
We write to share this program with you, to encourage you to ask your schools what is being done for the students that just do not have enough money to eat. These students deserve a good meal in the middle of their day. These students deserve not to be embarrassed by having to walk holding the “free lunch” tray even though their parents are being charged for the hot lunch. Why should any child suffer that humiliation if it can be avoided?