As poverty runs rampant in our country and income inequality has created a vast gulf between the rich and poor, child hunger is gaining attention as a need that must be addressed immediately in our communities. One way to ensure that no child goes hungry, though, should go without saying.
Feed them. Don’t throw their food in the trash.
A Utah school is under fire after as many as 40 elementary schools students received their lunches, but then had their food taken from them and tossed in the trash. Their crime? Their parents allegedly were behind on payments for lunch. Even worse, many of the parents say they didn’t even know they weren’t up to date on the fees.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, a child-nutrition manager visited the elementary school after learning so many families had fallen behind. Because the school was unable to determine who couldn’t pay until after the students reached the register, the cafeteria workers were told to then take the food from the children before they ate it. Having already been served, the food was then put in the trash since it couldn’t be given to anyone else.
The students were given fruit and milk, so they didn’t go entirely hungry. However, many stated that they felt humiliated by being singled out to have their full lunch seized.
“We understand the feelings of upset parents and students who say this was an embarrassing and humiliating situation,” the district said in a statement. “We again apologize and commit to working with parents in rectifying this situation and to ensuring students are never treated in this manner again.”
The district’s focus, however, seems to be on ensuring that better notification is in place to be sure that balances are paid, rather than addressing the foolishness and cruelty of singling out young students whose accounts have fallen behind, refusing to allow them to eat the food, choosing to simply discard it instead. They’ve said they will work on better email alerts to keep parents up to date on the funds in student’s account.
Apparently, running at a deficit, for any amount of time, isn’t an option, even if it means the food would end up in the trash otherwise.
Sadly, Utah isn’t alone in this issue. Just last fall, a Massachusetts middle school also forced students to toss their lunches, again citing low balances on their lunch tickets as the issue and saying they couldn’t discern the problem until the food was already handed out to the students. As a result of the uproar over the incident, the school said it would put a policy in place never to refuse food to a student again. Perhaps the Utah school could take that into account when it comes up with solutions to deal with insufficient funds next time.
Children need to eat. Hungry children cannot learn as easily as a child who is fed. Food should not be withheld because a bank account falls below a certain balance. Food should not be used as a weapon, with it being withheld as punishment for bad behavior at the school. It should not be a bargaining chip for federal budget negotiations. It should not be “earned” by janitorial tasks.
Feed our children. Let them learn. It’s really just that basic.
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