Call a local K-12 school in your area and ask if you can pay off the school lunch debt of a student or two. Also, find out if your state has an anti-lunch-shaming bill and if it doesn’t, ask your legislature to pass one.
Low-income families sometimes struggle to pay the school lunch bills of their children. Hungry kids have trouble learning, but some poor kids suffer worse than a missed meal. Some have suffered the indignity of having their breakfast or lunch taken from them and thrown in the trash. Sometimes this happens in sight of their classmates.
In extreme cases (scroll down for a New York Times article that relays these incidents), students who owe are forced to clean cafeteria tables. The arm of a child in Alabama was stamped with the phrase “I Need Lunch Money.”
Being poor isn’t good or bad; it just is. No child should be made to feel shame over not having as much money as their fellow students, or made to suffer socially because their parents fell behind in their school meal payments or simply forgot.
One way you can fight back is to call a K-12 school near you and ask if you can pay the bills of students whose families are in arrears. Odds are there’s at least one school in your city or town that has unpaid school meal bills. A 2016 report by the School Nutrition Association states that roughly 75 percent of responding districts had at least some student meal debt by the end of the school year.
This is an admittedly imperfect solution, as it lets the government off the hook for funding a service that minor children should be able to expect, but it does help where help is needed.
You can also ask your state legislators if your state has an anti-lunch-shaming bill on the books, and if they don’t, you can ask them to pass one.
First, find your state legislators by plugging your zip code into this web tool:
Then look up their biographies on your state legislature’s web site and see if either your state senator or state house rep or both sit on any education-related committees. If they do, it is extra-important for you to pursue this matter.
Ask your state reps to pass a bill like the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act, which New Mexico’s governor signed into law in April. It appears to be the first bill of its kind passed by an American state. It outlaws any techniques that have the effect of shaming students, and it asks schools to work with parents to satisfy meal debt or get them on a federal school meal assistance program.
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GOOD UPDATE: A Seattleite by the name of Jeff Lew has made it his mission to combat lunch debt and school practices that shame children whose parents have trouble paying for meals.
His GoFundMe is a clearinghouse for schools in need, and it lets you start a campaign on behalf of a school near you:
You can also show support by following him on Twitter:
…and following his dedicated Twitter account for the cause, which is admittedly a work in progress as of May 28:
Read this 2016 Atlantic piece on unpaid school meal bills:
See the particulars of the New Mexico anti-shaming law:
Read this New York Times piece on the New Mexico anti-shaming law:
See the School Nutrition Association report that states that three-quarters of districts who filled out the survey had outstanding student debts (scan for the paragraph with the phrase “unpaid student meal debt” in bold):
Read about that incident in Alabama where a kid’s arm was stamped with the phrase ‘I Need Lunch Money’:
See more proof that school lunch-shaming is, sadly, a thing:
Read about recent efforts by individual citizens to settle unpaid student meal debt: