'Lunch shaming' solution will take concerted effort

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Kudos to the folks at the McCook Congregational Church, who gave the McCook Public Schools a check for $470.20 to pay off negative lunch accounts for 26 students.

It’s not unusual for faith groups to feed the hungry — Memorial United Methodist Church’s weekly community meals and the McCook Pantry, housed at St. Alban’s Episcopal’s Canterbury House are two notable local examples and they deserve kudos as well.

Schools have compassion for hungry children as well, of course, but officials also have a duty to manage millions of taxpayer dollars responsibly, and since students need to be fed, that includes somehow paying for lunch, and often, breakfast.

A Rhode Island school district tried to balance both responsibilities, issuing a decree that students whose lunch accounts were in arrears would be served a sun butter and jelly sandwich until the balance owed was paid in full or a payment plan was set up.

After the news created a national outcry, the district explained that the district was owed $77,000, with 78 percent of the debt coming from students who were not enrolled in the district’s Free and Reduced Lunch Program.

That caught the attention Chobani yogurt founder Hamdi Ulukaya, who stepped forward and paid the debt himself. A GoFundMe page was set up as well, raising more than $57,000 at last count.

We’ve often argued that it’s an outrage that children should go hungry in a country that can produce, and waste, so much food.

That’s especially true in America’s breadbasket, where the mass production of food is all around us.

But some of the responsibility has to land on parents who may be eligible to apply for free-and-reduced-price lunches, but simply haven’t bothered.

The Rhode Island school district has since changed its policy, but like so many issues involving kids, it will take a concerted effort by all parties — parents, school officials, political and civic leaders — to reach a fair and effective solution to the “lunch shaming” problem.

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