Tuesday, March 10, 2009

School Lunch Problems

I saw this story today. I know it a long one, but please take the time to read it all. I've got some thoughts when you're finished reading this.

By SUSAN MONTOYA BRYAN – Associated Press
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - A cold cheese sandwich, fruit and a milk carton might not seem like much of a meal - but that's what's on the menu for students in New Mexico's largest school district without their lunch money.

Faced with mounting unpaid lunch charges in the economic downturn, Albuquerque Public Schools last month instituted a "cheese sandwich policy," serving the alternative meals to children whose parents fail to pick up their lunch tab.

Such policies have become a necessity for schools seeking to keep budgets in the black while ensuring children don't go hungry. School districts including those in Chula Vista, Calif., Hillsborough County, Fla., and Lynnwood, Wash., have also taken to serving cheese sandwiches to lunch debtors.

Critics argue the cold meals are a form of punishment for children whose parents can't afford to pay.
"We've heard stories from moms coming in saying their child was pulled out of the lunch line and given a cheese sandwich," said Nancy Pope, director of the New Mexico Collaborative to End Hunger. "One woman said her daughter never wants to go back to school."

Some Albuquerque parents have tearfully pleaded with school board members to stop singling out their children because they're poor, while others have flooded talk radio shows thanking the district for imposing a policy that commands parental responsibility.

Second-grader Danessa Vigil said she will never eat sliced cheese again. She had to eat cheese sandwiches because her mother couldn't afford to give her lunch money while her application for free lunch was being processed.

"Every time I eat it, it makes me feel like I want to throw up," the 7-year-old said.
Her mother, Darlene Vigil, said there are days she can't spare lunch money for her two daughters.

"Some parents don't have even $1 sometimes," the 27-year-old single mother said. "If they do, it's for something else, like milk at home. There are some families that just don't have it and that's the reason they're not paying."

The School Nutrition Association recently surveyed nutrition directors from 38 states and found more than half of school districts have seen an increase in the number of students charging meals, while 79 percent saw an increase in the number of free lunches served over the last year.
In New Mexico, nearly 204,000 low-income students - about three-fifths of public school students - received free or reduced-price lunches at the beginning of the school year, according to the state Public Education Department.

"What you are seeing is families struggling and having a really hard time, and school districts are struggling as well," said Crystal FitzSimons of the national Food Research and Action Center.
In Albuquerque, unpaid lunch charges hovered around $55,000 in 2006. That jumped to $130,000 at the end of the 2007-08 school year. It was $140,000 through the first five months of this school year.

Charges were on pace to reach $300,000 by the end of the year. Mary Swift, director of Albuquerque's food and nutrition services, said her department had no way to absorb that debt as it had in the past.

"We can't use any federal lunch program money to pay what they call bad debt. It has to come out of the general budget and of course that takes it from some other department," Swift said.

With the new policy, the school district has collected just over $50,000 from parents since the beginning of the year. It also identified 2,000 students eligible to receive free or reduced-price lunches, and more children in the lunch program means more federal dollars for the district.

School officials said the policy was under consideration for some time and parents were notified last fall. Families with unpaid charges are reminded with an automated phone call each night and notes are sent home with children once a week. Swift added that the cheese sandwiches - about 80 of the 46,000 meals the district serves daily - can be considered a "courtesy meal," rather than an alternate meal.

Some districts, she noted, don't allow children without money to eat anything.

Albuquerque Public Schools "has historically gone above and beyond as far as treating children with dignity and respect and trying to do what's best with for the child and I think this is just another example," Swift said.

Now, first of all, I don't think a cheese sandwich, fruit and milk are a bad lunch. Sounds like protein and vitamins to me. I know when I [rarely] forgot to give my kids lunch money or they left the house without a sack lunch, they were fed a peanut butter sandwich by the school. It's filling and nutritious. It gives them the fuel to make it through the afternoon.

Critics who view a free nutritious meal as “punishment” are probably the same people who think the economic stimulus bill is a GOOD idea.

The parents whining about their kids “not wanting to go back to school” after receiving a FREE meal need to be less concerned with their kids' complaints and MORE concerned with teaching their kids gratitude that they got SOMETHING to eat instead of going hungry. And the parents alleging the schools are “singling out” some kids because they are “poor” need to be honest with their kids about their [the parents] economic reality.

Darlene, the single mom whose daughter says she won't eat the sammies anymore should tell her 7-year-old what I told MY kids when they refused to eat what I put on the table, “you are free to NOT eat this, but this is all there is to eat tonight.” She needs to set some limits and boundaries for that child. As for parents not having money for lunches because they need that money for food at home, PLAN Ahead and get your kids in the federally funded lunch program.

School districts around the country are suffering strained budgets because parents have not paid for lunches and failed to seek other remedies to the task of feeding their kids. It's not fair to all the children to take money away from other school programs that all students benefit from to pay the costs incurred by irresponsible parents. These people KNEW they were in financial trouble. They could have applied for the School breakfast and lunch programs. They could have applied for food stamps.

And since there are some districts with NO money to feed kids who show up with no lunch, I'd say these parents whinging about their kids getting a cheese sandwich, fruit and milk need a big hot steaming cup of STFU.


Old NFO said...

Agreed! Of course some people would bitch if they were hung with a new rope too... sigh...

g bro said...

You make too much sense to me, Holly. Just wait when everybody finds out that national health care does not include MRI's on demand and free cosmetic surgery. Be a lot of PA's and RN's with stethescopes, tongue depressors, bandaids and aspirin.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
JPG said...

I Googled around some and could only locate one quote for the cost of a student lunch in New Mexico. At
there’s a story from the Valencia County News-Bulletin, quoting Angela Haney, director of student nutrition services for the Los Lunas school district. She states that their school lunch “includes an entrĂ©e, bread, fruit, vegetable and a carton of milk and is low in fat for less than $2. . . . a healthy breakfast for $1 is also a good value."

I don‘t know the financial state of Mrs. Darlene Vigil, the only complainer quoted by name. I’d really like to know if she spends money for cigarettes, beer, movies, internet connection, cable TV, cell phone, and such, while complaining that she can’t afford to pay for her second-grader’s lunches.

Crucis said...

Bread & cheese...didn't that used to be known as a plowman's lunch?

If they couldn't pay for the school lunch, give the kids a brown-bag lunch from home.

g bro said...

Apropos of nothing, I really enjoy the sage and aubergine color motif of you blog page. Very soothing - sort of desert at dusk.

Gina said...

Ok, so you finally got me to respond to a blog. Here's a few more facts.

If you are on food stamps, that's automatic qualification for free lunches. If your income is low enough you also qualify for free lunches. If you don't qualify for free lunch you may qualify for reduced at the cost of forty cents a lunch, that's the national standard. All you have to do is fill out the form. It's a pretty painless procedure. And because of confidentiality guidelines it is not possible for fellow students to even know what other students pay for meals.

Those students that are getting a cheese sandwich should feel lucky. Our school district only gives them a slice of cheese, a white milk, a serving of fruit, and a serving of veggies. They can however go back to the salad bar cart and get more fruit and veggies until full. We have done away with the peanut butter sandwiches because of the increase in nut allergies.

And one more thing from the flip side. All those people compalaining should walk in the shoes of those people that have to give kids that owe money on their lunch accounts an "alternative meal" because their parents don't get off their duff and take care of their children. We are caught between wanting to take care of all those kids, and knowing our jobs depend on making sure our budgets work and not letting kids charge more than whats affordable. It's not like we do it just so we can see who we can make cry today. Gone are the days that the lunch lady has a big ugly mole on her face, and wears that ungly hairnet while she slops food on your lunch tray.

Thanks Holly for defending the Lunch Lady :-)

HollyB said...

Thanks SO much for commenting! You were in my thoughts when I was writing this post. I remember what you told me about how early you get to work in order to prepare breakfast for students. And that some students qualify for free breakfast AND lunch.

Thanks for the informative comment from your perspective as a "Lunch Lady" a Pretty LL at that.

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