Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Lose-Lose Situation in Which Children Feel the Shame

As a parent whose child is eligible for and enrolled in the reduced-lunch program, this story struck a particular nerve with me today. While I understand the enormous financial bind schools are faced with when parents don't pay for their children's lunches, I equally understand that there are too many households to count that are having to decide between putting groceries on the table or putting gas in the car to get to work. Or, even worse, buying much needed medicine or putting food on the table. Without a doubt, this nightmare of an economy has forced many parents who were already on the edge to simply pick the safest place to jump. But, in this case, it's children who feel the shame for an economy gone down the tubes, and it breaks my heart.

While the New Mexico school system uses the "At least we feed them" excuse to justify their decision to offer cold cheese sandwiches to children with delinquent lunch accounts, it strikes me as a weak solution to the problem. The fact is that while parents are ultimately responsible for paying for meals, it's the children who have to face each other in the lunchroom. Every child knows the difference between a yummy sandwich, snacks, and treats lovingly packed by a parent who has not only the money but the luxury of the time it takes to shop for and pack these meals on a daily basis, and the welfare sandwich that's being served up to those whose parents can't pay. The cheese sandwich might as well be a Scarlet Letter, proclaiming to a child's peers, "Hey, my family doesn't have the money to feed me!" Can you even imagine how a child internalizes the reactions he/she gets from this class marker?

Because the article didn't mention any fundraising efforts, I'm left to presume that this is the only option the school district could come up with....scary if that's the case. I just can't imagine a school district, PTO, or community that would fail to organize some sort of fundraisers to help raise money for local children to be provided hot, nutritious lunches.

H's lunch is .30/daily at the reduced rate, while meals are $1.25/full price. As it turns out, the policy for our district is one of those that doesn't seem to give a shit if a kid ends up going hungry. The program allows a child three charges on their lunch account. Once those are up, the child is provided with a sandwich and a milk carton--for up to three days. After that...well, I guess you're on your own kid.


Dr. Addled said...

This is a travesty. But, I can't say that I'm surprised, given the bizarre, unrealistic attitude in this country that people are fully responsible for their own poverty.

This policy just seems shortsighted given other national priorities. For example, we know that going hungry makes it harder to learn, and that for some kids, the only "real" meal they get each day is the reduced price meal. I wonder if this policy won't impact the school's performance (a la No Child Left Behind) as more and more families find themselves in dire financial straights?

日月神教-向左使 said...