I’m not even sure where to begin with this post, so bear with me while I battle to get this all out.
I began this school year like any other, with excited kids and coffee-propelled abilities to orchestrate my children out the door on time in their shiny new duds. I promised this year I’d stay on top of the crazy paperwork, especially with five of my seven children now in school, and that I’d volunteer as much as I could, making awesome school lunches for them, and have lunch with them at school, too. This year was going to be the awesomest year yet!
The first three weeks of school I did just that. I volunteered. I spent hours at the school, stapling papers, making copies, cutting crafts and projects for the kids, always being sure to tailor my volunteer time around lunch time, so I could do help teachers and visit my kids, particularly my kindergartner during her first time away from mommy.
But lunch time was not my favorite time. In fact, I came to dread it.
Each day I’d encounter children hungry, upset, and even yelled at during this half-hour lunch.
Children whose lunches were not enough. Parents who forgot to pack a drink, or a fork or spoon. Kids whose hands waved furiously for help from a lunch aide, attended to after ten minutes, finally able to consume their hard-to-open package of food or milk container.
That doesn’t even include the lunch lines and their ridiculous lengths. Half of lunch would pass before kids in line were able to finally sit with their purchased food and start eating. And despite their best efforts to wolf down enough food before lunch ended, these very same kids would be reprimanded for not eating “more” as they were suspected of “playing” instead of eating, when that wasn’t the case at all.
And even worse were the kids who purchased lunch and didn’t like it. Their parents didn’t check with them beforehand, no one asked if they wanted it, they just bought something, sat down, and stared at a tray of food they hated. They’d pick apart a few things, and drink what they could, but these kids would inevitably throw an entire tray of food away at lunch’s end and go back to class hungry.
I spoke to lunch aides and teachers as I encountered them, offering to help if I could, but with food allergies on the rise, there is a strict NO SHARING policy enforced, so unless kids were sneaking it to their hungry friends, if these aides weren’t allowing these kids to call home, they went hungry until dismissal.
What the hell is happening in schools, people?
I couldn’t stand to see this, and I voiced my opinion on it to administration, and subsequently quietly stopped going to lunch to see my kids. I actually retreated at home, too. I began desperately trying to walk with the kids, daily, to walk off the sadness I felt that stuck with me, trying to work through the emotions. Kids going hungry at school before adults very eyes and nothing’s happening, no one’s doing anything about it. I couldn’t bear it, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t do anything, either.
Fast forward to today when I had to go to school after I discovered my son forgot to take his allergy and asthma medicine. I arrived as his lunch had already begun, to bring him his dual inhalers, his chewable, and liquid medicine, and I watched a girl his age walk by, sobbing with her tray in hands. She sobbed all the way to her seat, plopped the tray down on the table, and continued wailing.
As my son finished taking his meds, and I wished him a good rest of the day, I motioned to the nearest aide opening a milk for a child nearby that there was a girl in distress nearby. I walked slowly behind her, giving her time to attend to her before I walked behind her, only to hear this poor girl explode in response to “What’s Wrong?”
“I don’t liiiike thiiiis! Not anyyythiiiing on myy plaaaate! Not anything they have to offerrrrrr! And I’m huuuungrrrrrryyy!!”
She simply wailed out in pain, needing help. She wailed so hard it echoed into my chest cavity and I felt it reverberating from within me causing tears to trickle out my eyes. I immediately went to the secretary to tell her that a girl currently at lunch was probably going to need to call her mother, that she didn’t like her lunch. The secretary looked at me as though I’d grown another head. “Uh.. oh. Okay.”
I suddenly got a very odd pit in my stomach that she was not going to be sent to the office to call her parents at all. I had one more stop to make, to drop a belt off to my daughter for her roomier-than-I’d-like pants, and I may have taken a bit longer than it should have to keep tabs on the office desk.
The girl never came to call. Now I can’t say with certainty if there isn’t a phone somewhere else in the cafeteria or teacher’s lounge. I want to give the school the benefit of the doubt that the secretary looked at me funny because she wouldn’t have come to her, because there is another phone, but that motherly pit in my stomach, that worry deep down didn’t feel comfortable, but what more could I do?
And so I left. I gulped down my lunchtime experiences once more, and I came home to cry and to think a little. I needed to think and clear my head because I need to know how to proceed, how to stop this from happening, how to resolve and stop this, because it just keeps happening and whatever I’ve tried thus far isn’t working.
It also occurred to me that this probably isn’t just happening at our schools here, that it might be happening in schools everywhere. Kids are known to come home and devour our snack cabinets, aren’t they, proclaiming how “starving” they are, but is the reason why ever inquired about or explained? I don’t know how many parents are in the habit of asking their kids how their lunch was (if they bought) or checking on their lunch boxes to see if they ate everything that was packed.
Thus, this post was born.
Here I am, today, writing this, pleading with you to ASK YOUR KIDS today when they come home about lunch (and breakfast, if they eat it there). Don’t wait. Ask today. And don’t just ask about them about their lunches and food, ask about their friends and classmates, too. Questions like:
“How was your lunch (and breakfast) today?”
“Did you eat everything?”
“Do you like school food? (What do you like/not like about it?)”
“Do your friends eat anything cool at lunch you wish you could?”
“Do you friends eat all of their lunches?”
“Is there any classmates who don’t eat at all? Why don’t they?”
“Do you think you have enough time to eat at lunch?”
Even if your kids are older and know better, please open up this dialog with them. Their friends could be going hungry at school and not speaking up to authority figures about it, for whatever the reason. Bet your bottom dollar, though, that they are opening up to your kids and their friends about it, though, or that it’s noticed by others. Not to mention, what if your kids are sacrificing half their lunches daily to help feed their friends, and you never knew? And that’s why they come home hungry, and it isn’t a “growth spurt” as you once thought?
Talk to them, parents. And then talk to their teachers, too, and tell them your findings. Also talk to your administrators, even if it’s an email to the principal if you’re too busy to stop by yourself. Schools need to know and check on this, and lunch aides need to be more vigilant and not just slough it off and assume it’ll be okay.
Teachers need to receive reports from lunch aides, if they are not present at lunch, knowing whether or not a child ate at lunch, and parents need to them be told, either right that second via email or call, or in a note home at the end of the day. Sadly, though, none of this is happening at my school right now, not unless I really fully press this issue further (and I am). But I don’t want every other school to go unnoticed, either. I want YOUR kids at YOUR schools and THEIR friends to be alright, too.
And I’m not talking about poor kids, either, I’m talking about ANY child who attends, this isn’t specifically targeted at those who have less money than others.
Let’s do what we can to help every child. Share this with your friends and family, encourage them to have this conversation today, too. And please come back and tell me what happened with your talk with your kids, okay? Because I’m seriously worried. Are they okay? Are their friends okay? Did you notify the school? What are their schools doing to help combat hungry kids at school?
Let’s get the word out there, okay? Here’s an image you can pin on Pinterest if you’d like to.