By Brenda Robinson
The new federal school free food program has some politicians and other Americans angry. This group, as they do with other social service/entitlement programs, contends families in need are pimping the system, and basically believe adults should and could provide for their own children. These critics believe the cliche, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. However, these critics are having difficulty making sense of their position because low-income children are not the only recipients of the free food. Every student is eligible if at least 40 percent of the school’s student population is low-income. Even children of the rich and famous may eat without charge.
We must question what all the fuss is about.
Some Americans apparently believe parents can be forced to provide nutritional meals for their children, regardless of the economic status of the parents. In addition, these sentiments have now been extended to parents who may have the economic status to feed their children nutritional meals, yet for unknown reasons, some of these children are not eating well. Perhaps, this group of children’s nutritional needs are not met due to parents’ work schedules, early work hours, being overwhelmed with life issues, and/or misplaced values. Whatever the situation, critics are invited to examine the realities.
According to the United States Census Bureau, 47 million Americans are living in poverty. Reportedly, the percentage of Americans in poverty has not reached these proportions since the early 1990s. And, the numbers reflect how racism is a direct contributor to poverty. The Rev. Michael H. Cottman, covers the White House for BlackAmerica Web.com., released the following data:
African Americans represent 31 percent of individuals who have received food stamps in their lifetime, outnumbering whites (15 percent) and Hispanics (22 percent).
Thus, unemployment and miseducation are direct contributors to malnourished children. If school systems can assure children one or two daily nutritional meals, isn’t this the least we can do for this vulnerable population?
This food program, termed the Community Eligibility Option, will include free meals for all students when a school elects to participate and meets the guidelines. This certification is based upon 40 percent of the school’s students being in foster care, homeless, in Head Start programs, having caregivers who are migrant workers, and/or receiving food stamps. An added bonus permits schools to provide this service without cumbersome paperwork which saves dollars and time. Private and public schools are eligible. Children from moderate and upper income families are not, and should not be, excluded. There is no proven method to make adequate income parents provide nutritional meals for their children. Until such a process emerges, all children deserve access to “tools for learning” and eating well is one of those tools.
Research reveals hungry children are more susceptible to illness, more likely to experience anxiety and depression and have more disciplinary problems. Reportedly, even children who get three meals a day are sometimes undernourished, due to diet. Some parents, though able to provide healthy family meals, resort to foods that are quick and easy to prepare. One in three American children are overweight.
The U.S. Department of Education has set expectations schools receiving federal food subsidies. The food served must include whole grains, vegetables, fruits and less fat and sodium. First Lady Michelle Obama instituted the move salad bars to schools initiative and 1,000 schools have adopted the program. Fortunately, the majority of Americans believe in the First Lady’s movement, including school systems.
Let’s just ignore the critics and be grateful that of all the challenges students face, taking a test on an empty stomach is not one of them.