On Feeding Our Children …

Imagine you are a child in school.  The lunch bell rings, you head to the cafeteria with your friends, stand in line, select your lunch, and when you get to the cashier, you are told that you cannot have your lunch, for your parents haven’t paid your lunch bill.  You are handed a sandwich … or worse, the cashier throws your lunch in the trash and tells you to move out of the line.  Your friends … they are looking at you … you feel as if every single kid in the cafeteria is looking at you.  You are so embarrassed you wish the ground would open and swallow you.  You run to the bathroom in tears.  This is happening all over the United States.embarrassed-child.jpgSome children are eligible for free lunch, but those who are not must rely on their parents to keep money in their school lunch account.  Sometimes perhaps the parents are a bit short one week, or perhaps they simply forgot.  It happens.  Children should not have to go without a nutritious lunch and be shamed in front of the entire school for something over which they had no control.  And yet, that is exactly what is happening across the nation.

In Warwick, Rhode Island earlier this month, the school district implemented a new policy that any child who has unpaid lunch fees or cannot afford to pay for his/her lunch will be denied a hot lunch and given only a “sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich”.  The district claims to have “tens of thousands of dollars” of unpaid lunch fees and can no longer afford to extend lunch credit to the children.

Enter a good Samaritan, Angelica Penta, owner of a local restaurant, who offered $4,000 to help pay some of that lunch debt, but her offer was firmly rejected … twice! She was told that the school would have to decide which children’s accounts to apply the money toward, and so unless she specified whose accounts she wished to pay, or unless she paid the total they claim is owed, they could not accept her generosity.  Meanwhile, children are being embarrassed and subjected to a sandwich made of … sunflower seeds???

But Warwick is only one such example, as I found out on researching for this post.  This is happening all over the country and has been for some years!  In Phoenix, Arizona, children’s arms are stamped with the words “Lunch Money” if their accounts are empty.  In Santa Fe, New Mexico, lunches are thrown in the trash, rather than given to the children if they cannot pay.  What a waste!!! A few states have recently banned what is called “lunch shaming”, but in others it is standard practice.  In Rhode Island, legislation requiring all students to receive the same hot lunch regardless of their financial circumstances is pending, but meanwhile kids in Warwick schools are eating sunflower seed sandwiches and continuing to be embarrassed.

There are any number of steps the schools could have taken other than hurting the children.  They could have contacted the parents by phone, discreetly sent a note home with the child, or even called the parent in for a consultation.  The children do not have control of the family finances! donation-jar.jpgThere are a few heroes here, though.  Ms. Penta’s assistance was ultimately accepted by a portion of the district, West Warwick, and she has set up donation jars in her restaurants where patrons can add money to help the cause.  The rest of the district, however, continues to insist that she must specify which children she wishes to help.  She has posted on her Facebook account that if anyone needs help paying for their lunch, to contact her and she would help.

Chobani.jpgChobani, the yogurt makers, has given the district $47,650 to apply toward the debt the district claims it is owed.  Now, oddly, the district first claimed the lunch debt was in the $40,000 range, but just a few days later claimed it was $77,000.  Something fishy here … surely they do have an accountant?  Thumbs up and hats off to Chobani for their compassion and humanitarianism, and thumbs down to Warwick, Rhode Island, where officials are putting profit ahead of the nation’s children.

It is wrong to punish the children for their parents’ oversight, and in most cases it is simply oversight.  We’ve all forgotten to pay a bill, or other important tasks.  We send our children to school to learn, and it’s hard to learn much if you are hungry, or if you have been embarrassed so badly in front of your friends that you just want the day to be over so you can go home.  School lunch … such a simple thing … and yet it has become a monumental issue in this nation.  We are so obsessed with money that we are harming our greatest resource, our children.


Along those same lines …

Remember a few days ago when I posted Nicholas Kristof’s piece about Teresa L. Todd, the good Samaritan who stopped to help three immigrant teens and was arrested by Border Patrol agents for her efforts?  Well, here’s another similar story.

Bonnie-KimballBonnie Kimball was a cafeteria worker at Mascoma Valley Regional High School in Canaan, New Hampshire until recently.  Then on March 28th, she was fired by vendor Café Services for letting a student have a lunch even though his account had no money in it.  Turns out that Café Services’ contract with the school was coming up for renewal and the school was considering switching to another company, so Café Services had head honchos in the school keeping an eye on the staff.  Her letter of termination stated …

“On March 28, a District manager was on-site and witnessed a student coming through the line with multiple food items that you did not charge him for. This is a strict violation of our Cash Handling Procedures, the Schools Charge Policy and Federal Regulation governing free meals.”

Once the story was reported nationally by CNN, The Washington Post and others, the company told The Post that they would offer Ms. Kimball her job back, but it was obvious to all that their purpose was to stop the negative publicity that was having a negative effect on their contract negotiations, and Ms. Kimball declined.

The situation came to the attention of chef José Andrés, a humanitarian who has provided thousands of meals to victims of natural disasters and the homeless.  Chef Andrés tweeted …

“New Hampshire school cafeteria worker fired for giving food to student who couldn’t pay … The hero is Bonnie Kimball! If she needs a job we have openings at @thinkfoodgroup if you know her, let her know!”

Is our society becoming so self-focused, so intent on squeezing every last cent out of people that we punish those who try to help others?  It would seem so.

53 thoughts on “On Feeding Our Children …

  1. I remember being in school and forgetting my lunch money. There was always a nice cafeteria worker that would let me eat and they would talk to my mother later. Food is so important in making sure students are in a productive learning environment. How could we as a country be so callous to the needs of our children? Government has failed us time and time again on issues that are easily solved. If they can’t figure this out how will we ever attain equality, justice for all, peace or security? Thank God for the humanitarianism showed by the common people. I pray Jehovah God soon rids this world of the wicked and greedy that think throwing out food is better than feeding a child with no money (Psalms 37:10,11).

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re so right … a hungry child is not able to concentrate and learn. We have become a nation of arrogance and greed, one where wealth is respected and poverty is not. Sadly, with the current person in the White House, that is likely to get worse rather than better.

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  2. I had seen the article about Bonnie Kimball being fired and was upset! Now reading about sunflower seeds and jelly! Seriously!!! Once again I have no words, but I am very thankful to read about some people who do have caring hearts and are helping out in a big way! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Typically, there are two things, I think, that bring out the best in people: a catastrophe, like 9/11, Hurricane Maria, California wildfires … or children being hurt. Few of us can resist coming to the aid of a child in need. Isn’t it a shame, though, that it takes that to bring out the best in people? Sigh. Never mind me … I’m just tired and jaded from seeing the world we live in.

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  3. “History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.” – Nelson Mandela. I will say no more about the abominable practice by the Warwick school department, except that I applaud Angelica Penta and her patrons at “Gel’s Kitchen” for together raising over $4000. While Chobani is indeed to be commended, that amount of money is a drop to them. For the everyday working class citizen’s and Angelica, $4000 is a large sum and I say, well done! It does, however, occur to me that perhaps Ms. Melania could address this issue in her “Be Best” platform unveiled a year ago this month. If I remember correctly, the focus was to improve the social, emotional and physical health of children…doesn’t this issue fit nicely amongst these three? Thank-you!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nelson Mandela understood that which so many today apparently do not understand. Sigh. Yes, like you, I am more apt to applaud the average people like Ms. Penta than the big corporations for whom a donation is but a tax write-off. Now, I think you may have hit on something with your idea about Melania, the owner of the coat that reads “I don’t really care, do U?” If she is promoting her “Be Best” campaign which, as I understand, includes anti-bullying, then she should surely jump on this bandwagon! Now, if I can figure out how to bring it to her attention!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. They do what to kids??
    W-T-F!!
    I could grudgingly accept the NRA (watered down)
    But this…
    Some people want their butts kicking from West Coast to East, then from the border with Mexico right to Canada, and then back down again.
    Man! I am fuming here!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am fuming too … we have become a society where the only … THE ONLY thing that is valued by some is wealth and power. Money takes precedence over children, or at least children whose parents are not wealthy. Here’s one that will surprise you … this takes place mostly in school districts that have a large African-American population! Shocked, aren’t you?

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  5. Sunflower seeds and jelly? WTF, that’s just unamerican! Parents should start a petition to remove that school’s superintendent. Aren’t public school lunches federally funded, with surplus food stock? How can there possibly be a shortage… unless someone is skimming off the top. 😦

    Liked by 2 people

  6. I wonder why it is always the children, the innocents who suffer, and then I answer myself with, because they are soft, easy targets. You are so right ~ a phone call would sort out so many of these issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, they cannot fight back. 😥 However, children strike a chord in our hearts and evoke deep empathy, so if one picks on them, there’s sure to be a pushback, as these people are finding out. Once the public learns of injustices toward children, the claws come out! 😉

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  7. Blood boiling. Everyday our countries move further away from a principled society. One which cares for its citizens. These days it’s look after the money makers (or grabbers) and the rest fend for themselves. Why don’t we just forget about the last 100 odd years and go back to the Victorian workhouses.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Hello Jill. I wonder how many of these people denying food to hungry children ever went hungry themselves. It is hard to see someone hungry and not help when you know how it feels. Hugs

    Liked by 4 people

  9. What a mental scar these children could have and if it’s an already unpopular child, the nasty names could follow them through school and college.Schools are supposed to prevent these types of things and help the students integrate.Why aren’t they checking to see if family circumstances have changed and offering the appropriate support which surely could include a few free meals.
    Cwtch

    Liked by 4 people

    • You are right … a mental scar. Humiliation in front of their friends, plus being given the idea that they are of less value than those who have the money to pay for their lunches. In one opinion piece I read, a woman said that if the parents couldn’t afford the lunches, they shouldn’t send their kids to school! You can only imagine how furious I was on reading that! Like our society, I fear our schools are becoming places where only those with money are valued. Sigh.
      Cwtch

      Liked by 1 person

      • Maybe the parents who can afford the lunches shouldn’t send their kind too school and since they have money to spare they can spring for private tutors. There would soon be a number of mummy’;s special little angels being teased about being thick because they can’t afford a tutor and are learning nothing Jut how petty are some parents o thing their children are better than a child who’s parent can’t afford a school lunch. I guess most of us may have been there at one time or another.
        Cwtch

        Liked by 1 person

        • I have said many times that this is no longer a country I recognize, and this simply reinforces that notion. What sort of a society have we become when we are willing to let children go hungry, embarrass them, and treat them as if they are some sort of pariahs. And you know the real irony here? The ones making these decisions are almost certainly the same ones that claim to be “pro-life” and claim that a baby’s life is sacred and abortion is so cruel. And yet, here are those babies a few years later and how are they treated? Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr. 😥
          Cwtch

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Excellent work Jill. This is such an outrage. WTF is happening to this country? I just don’t get it. There ARE really good people out there. The ones you mentioned in the piece are prime examples. But, we must do better as a country. Empathy and compassion are sorely lacking…obviously. We know it starts at the top with you know who…but thank god you’re calling this out. Good on you Jill…Only when people are shamed and held accountable will this stuff change.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Jeff! It is an outrage … I was beyond incensed when, in researching for this post, I came across a website supporting the school’s decisions and one woman had the gall to say that if parents couldn’t afford the school lunches, they should just keep their kids at home and not even send them to school!!! This country is certainly backtracking on human rights issues, isn’t it?

      Liked by 1 person

        • You’re so right about that. For Trump, only one thing … well, maybe two things matter: money and adoration. Give him money and tell him he’s wonderful, and he’ll give you one of his disgusting smiles and say he loves you. The rest of us, those who cannot stand the sight of him, are chopped liver.

          Liked by 1 person

      • Backtracking is right. Go back about 150 years and more and you’d find the same thing or worse. We are supposed to be civilized but that isn’t civilized behavior. I’m picturing cave dwellers physically fighting over food. —- Suzanne

        Liked by 1 person

  11. This is terrible. Luckily in our school district in Texas, the kids still get hot meals even if the balance goes in the negative.

    There is absolutely no reason for these school districts to do this to the students. I bet their super intendents get a raise in salary even if there’s a shortfall in the lunch account side of things.

    Shame on this and other school districts who do this. I wonder how many of the selfish people who make these decisions have school aged children?

    Liked by 4 people

    • Yes, it made me so angry! For Pete’s sake, feed the children. If the parents cannot pay, or if they simply forgot, talk to them and work something out, but feed the kids!!! Like you, I wondered if any of the decision-makers had kids in public schools. Most likely not. Sigh.

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