In schools districts across the country, more than 22 million children receive free or reduced-price meals through the National School Lunch Program. However for many families, even a reduced-price meal can present an insurmountable financial burden. Unfortunately, many school districts across the country use the practice of “lunch shaming” to encourage these low-income families to pay lunch fees by punishing their children.
Branding students with stamps that read “I Need Lunch Money,” forcing students to clean cafeteria tables in front of their classmates, and strapping students with bright wristbands are just a few of the many humiliating tactics employed by districts looking to bolster revenue. In some districts, school cafeteria workers are required to publicly throw away meals when students are unable to pay for them, which has led many cafeteria workers to resign, generating national media coverage.
In April, New Mexico became the first state to outlaw the practice of lunch shaming with the passage of the “Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights”. Currently, no similar legislation exists in North Carolina. Last month, Person High School administrators apologized for sending harsh notes home to students with unpaid cafeteria bills, an example of a less severe method of lunch shaming.
As the school year begins to wind down, it is important to recognize that often times these low-income children do not have the resources for adequate meals throughout the summer.
Organizations like Feeding America work towards ensuring that these children receive nutritional lunches when school is not in session. Feeding America’s BackPack Program prepares bagged lunch for students to eat on the weekends, while the Summer Food Service Program works with local food banks to meet the food needs of low-income families during summer break.
In Chapel Hill, the Food for the Summer Partnership spearheaded by Mayor Pam Hemminger coordinates with the Town of Chapel Hill, CHCCS, and organizations like PORCH to close the “summer meal gap” by providing weekday lunches for lower income children at meal sites that are within walking distance of many areas in the community. This summer, the partnership is looking to expand once again, and offers many volunteer and service learning opportunities for high school students looking for hours during the summer.