Letter to the editor: Every child deserves a hot school lunch

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Dear Editor:

I went to a school board meeting last night. The hot topic?

HOT SCHOOL LUNCHES!!!

Many schools carry “lunch room debt” throughout the year, and how this debt has or hasn’t been dealt with has been the subject of a great deal of press across the country.

Last spring, our school board decided to opt out of a practice that had taken hold during some of the worst days of the 2008-and-later economic downturn. I hope someday, “Shame Lunches,” AKA, “Courtesy Lunches,” will one day be a distant memory. Originally conceived with probably the best of intentions, these brown bag lunches were handed out to students whose parents held a negative balance on their lunch accounts.

Somewhat meager, yet nutritionally sound, courtesy lunches unfortunately were easily recognizable to all students, and therefore carried a stigma with them that many students chose not to endure. Rather than face the shame that partaking in such a lunch might incur, they would choose instead to go hungry.

Let’s talk about this. Current brain research is quite clear on one issue: human brains need nutrition to function properly. If brains don’t get good food, they don’t work well. Specifically, if our children are at school hungry, they are not learning at an optimum level.

So paying for an education for children, and then posing barriers to their intake of fuel, is a lot like spending all your money on a nice car, but not bothering to buy gas. Except, of course, that we are talking here about our very precious children.

In plain terms: paying for teacher salaries, school buildings, supplies, administrative costs, is not money well spent if the children we are spending it on can’t learn because they are hungry.

So I couldn’t be happier that our school board decided last spring to discontinue one barrier: The Shame Lunch. Instead, each child will be given a lunch equal to each other child’s lunch, regardless of the lunch debt they carry.

This is only right. Yes, brains need fuel to function, but brains also need a sense of safety to function, and feeling shamed is counterproductive to this important sense of security.

One problem. The lunch debt still exists. Last year the school district collected about $6,000 in public donations (from local businesses and individuals) to pay off $4,000 in debt. So it is likely that we will need to replenish that donation account before the year is over.

Personally, I don’t believe the school district should have to ask for public donations for this, since food for children who can’t afford it should be, “the cost of doing business.”

However, this is where we are. These are our children. They are our future and will someday be our physicians, lawyers, mechanics, politicians, clergy, and teachers. And they shouldn’t go hungry.

Can you help out? Here’s a link to help you donate.

https://www.edmonds.wednet.edu/cms/One.aspx…

If you can manage it, I thank you for contributing to this fund so our kids are fed. Oh and. Feeding kids: it’s just plain the right thing to do!

Thank you,
Cathy Baylor

3 COMMENTS

  1. How much of this debt is from people that can’t afford it and how much is people that just forget or simply don’t want to pay? Another thing to look at is how much of the “hot” meals get thrown in the garbage instead of consumed. It would be a shame if some students like the cold lunch better than the “slop on a tray” offering and now instead of eating lunch pick at what is given them and go hungry.

  2. My previous letter about school lunches had some interesting responses on Facebook! Thanks to all who chose to join the discussion! I’d like in particular to pass along this conversation, since I think there are some pretty interesting points made by both me and by engaged reader Judy McCoid. Thank you, Judy!

    JUDY MCCOID: The debt is not from kids /families who cannot afford it. They are on free lunch. Some of the debt is from kids on reduced lunch. Most of it is from families who do not qualify for assistance; therefore can afford to pay for the lunch?

    CATHY BAYLOR: Yes, Judy – and yet what our schools are dealing with is teaching children who aren’t ready to learn because they are hungry. The school district works very hard to collect lunchroom debt. Parents receive emails daily if they are in arrears even $5.00. This is as it should be.

    But in the meantime, kids need to be ready to learn. If you look at the bigger picture — nearly 19,000 students in the district, and 6,000 lunches served each day — an overall debt load of $5,000 isn’t that great, especially considering the return.

    JUDY MCCOID: Can the district afford to pay for lunch for all? If so, great. Forgiving debt may increase the debt amount.

    CATHY BAYLOR: Judy, for the 2016-2017 school year total district expenditures were $260,647,353. This exceeded revenues by $14,913,790, but there is a reserve fund that covered this. There is still over $7 million in the reserve fund.

    There are at least two things that you can conclude from this:

    1. $4,000 in school lunch debt is VERY SMALL in comparison to the overall budget. It is a minuscule percentage. To be precise, it is .00001535%. It is 00057143% of the reserve account that now sits at $7 million. So yes, they could afford to pay this.

    2. As good stewards, however, who are guarding the schools money and being frugal with taxpayer money, the school board instead chose to ask the community to help out with this with donations: which they gladly did. In fact, while the lunch debt was $4,000, the community chipped in $6,000, leaving $2000 to defray some of this year’s costs.

    And in response to your point about this new policy resulting in increased debt: I want to reiterate that the food services department is being quite aggressive in collecting lunch debt. I have personally seen a personalized message to a parent who owed, $4.54 just two days ago.

    This is a pilot program. The school board is monitoring the progress very closely. They can change the policy at any time, if need be. I think we should give it a chance, considering, as I said before, “we are talking here about our very precious children.”

    JUDY MCCOID: Thank you for the detailed information.

    CATHY BAYLOR: Thank you, Judy!

  3. If the concern that students have to eat at lunch or they can’t learn is important enough that the district should pick up the cost of people that choose to not pay for lunch. What about the kids that get the hot lunches and then toss 90% in the garbage, have they really been fed? My daughter has been out of the system for a couple of years now but I remember her telling me about constantly full cans and kids that would purposefully get in debt because they liked the cold option. For those kids that were eating the cold lunch and are now tossing out the hot lunch, are they being helped by this change in policy? Does the district even know how many are out there?

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