What’s for lunch today? Perhaps it’s a meal that you brought from home, or maybe you’re getting a hot lunch at school. Wherever it’s coming from, hopefully you’ll have a good meal to eat at lunchtime, which will then help you get through the rest of the school day, focusing on what’s important: learning! So is lunch an important part of the school day? Absolutely! But ever wonder where schools get the money to provide lunch for their students? Part of the money comes from the government, and the other part comes from families. Parents put money into a lunch account—similar to a bank account—and every time their child gets a lunch, a certain amount of money is taken from the account. Now what happens when parents forget to add money or can’t afford to add more money to their child’s lunch account? What happens to the student at lunchtime? Should the student still get a lunch? Some schools have chosen not to feed students who are carrying a “lunch debt.”
In other words, if parents aren’t paying for their lunches, they don’t get any food. Some schools stamp students’ hands, which serves as a reminder to their parents that they need to pay for their lunch debt. Others have decided to serve students meager lunches with little to no nutritional value. Are these methods affective? Better yet, are these methods right? The short answer is no. So why is what’s being called “lunch shaming” happening? It’s a difficult problem. Some families can’t afford to pay off their lunch debt, and schools can’t afford to pay for extra food when there’s no money coming in from the families. So, what now? There are no easy solutions, but many communities have stepped up to help these families and schools. Recently, the community and founder of Chobani (a yogurt company) raised and donated funds to a local school in Warwick, Rhode Island, that was planning to serve students carrying a lunch debt with a sun-butter sandwich, a carton of milk, a piece of fruit, and the vegetable of the day, instead of a full hot lunch meal. These funds covered the outstanding balance of these lunch debts and helped reverse the school’s lunchtime plans.
How would you try to solve a school’s lunch debt problem?