By Sherrie Harrison of Liberal
It has been a very long time since I have written a letter to the editor, but the story about “District apologizes after taking student lunches” brought about my attention, front and center.
Why? This incident happened in Salt Lake City, one day before it was broadcast across the nation.
One day after 30 children in Utah were denied lunches, it was broadcast across the entire nation.
I ask this because in 2000, at Lincoln Elementary School, right here in Liberal, the exact same thing happened to my youngest daughter.
Unbeknownst to me, my daughter, Kennedy Noelle – who was a fourth grader at that time – had exhausted her school lunch ticket. Anyone who has ever raised a child knows that a 9-year-old who is told at 11:30 a.m. that you are “out of punches. Make sure that you bring money tomorrow” will forget that admonition as soon as they are released onto the playground.
Kennedy was no exception. I am sure that there were those who were consummate moms who were totally on top of things at that time, but the rest of us were just trying to stay afloat. We did not mean to be remiss, and yet still, we all sometimes forget.
On my part, that particular momentary lack of parental vigilance will forever haunt me. The very next day, Kennedy was in line with her lunch tray when she approached the ‘ticket lady.’ It was at that very moment that she was told that she did not have a ticket or money for lunch and her tray of food was taken from her.
Kennedy looked up with her 9-year-old, baby girl, huge brown eyes welling up with tears, and asked, “Am I not going to get to eat today?” Kennedy was then told by ‘ticket lady’ to go sit down and they would bring her crackers and water. “Oh my God.... How on earth could anyone look a child of any age in the eye, and not only take their food away, but then tell them that they are only going to get crackers and a glass of water?
Thirteen years later, still my eyes well up with tears as I write this. I will forever wonder how any adult could conscientiously do that no matter the policy – especially if that same adult proceeded to eat lunch thereafter.
I’m telling you all right now, I would totally walk on hot coals barefoot before I would deprive a child, any child, rich or poor, of a meal. However, here is the kicker – it wasn’t Kennedy who told me this story at the time.
Georgia Quattron, a lunch line worker at Lincoln Elementary, called me later that same day. She was outraged by what she had witnessed with Kennedy. She happened to be serving food when she saw Kennedy tear up and she stepped forward and offered to pay for Kennedy’s lunch. Georgia called me later that day (not for thanks for having stepped up for my daughter, but because she wasn’t going to be there the next day and she was worried that Kennedy would forget to tell me that she needed lunch money and she didn’t want her to do without the next day).
I could not believe what I heard when Georgia related what had happened that day. I arrived early at the principal’s office the next day demanding an explanation.
Mrs. Thompson was very gracious and apologized for Kennedy’s distress. However, Mrs. Thompson stated that it was policy to offer crackers and water (only) to those who could not produce a lunch ticket or money. I have no idea if that type of episode was ever repeated again with other children, because I never again allowed Kennedy to get behind on lunch money again.
However, I, obviously, have never forgotten the incident. I could not then, nor can I now, fathom an adult looking any child in the eye and telling them that they cannot eat that day. Even more horrifying, proceeding to remove a tray of food from a child’s hands.
I am completely appalled that with the continuous rising number of children on government assistance lunch programs, children whose parents ordinarily are forthcoming with lunch money and yet, for some reason or another, forgot to send it with their child, are forced to sit aside and watch as their classmates eat because they have “forgotten to tell their parents that they are out of punches.”
There is something terribly wrong with our nation when we eagerly dole out assistance to children who would otherwise do without (don’t get me wrong, Absolutely feed anyone and everyone who cannot feed themselves), and yet take away food from the children deemed “solvent” simply because they forgot their ticket or money that day – or week.
We are the adults for a reason and that is to take care of our children, all children.
Wake the heck up America. Pay attention to what is happening right in your own back yard.
This is USD No. 480 Charging Policy: DISTRICT WIDE/ALL SCHOOLS
Students who are eligible for Reduced or Paid meals will not be allowed to charge for meals (breakfast or lunch) for the first 2 weeks of school, August 15th – August 30th .
All charging will stop 2 weeks (10 school calendar days) before the last day of school. Students will need to have money on their lunch accounts, bring cash/check, or bring a lunch from home.
When a student fails to pay or bring their own lunch, an “Emergency Meal” consisiting of a carton of milk and a Peanut Butter/Jelly sandwich will be provided to the student. If money is not sent after two “Emergency Meals” have been served, the student will be provided with crackers and milk until money is received.
Students will be allowed to call home prior to lunch if they have forgotten to bring their lunch or lunch money to school.
At USD No. 480, we allow students to charge meals because good nutrition is essential to learning, and we understand that sometimes children forget or lose their lunch money. As we are a non-profit organization, we depend on everyone to pay their charges.
“Cashiers at the K-6 level send home low balance letters, make phone calls to parents and at times even the secretaries help contact parents,” USD No. 480 Food Service Director Connie Vogts said. “If an elementary child does not have money, cashiers are supposed to take the emergency meal to the classroom so the child does not go through the line to get a tray. The reason they do this is so other students will not know whether the sack lunch is from home or not. We really do try to do everything possible to make sure all students get to eat.”