Of the many things I don’t remember about my time there as a 3-8 year old, one thing I do have a vivid memory of is walking down to a nearby park with my mom and sister to get a free lunch that was provided to families in the neighborhood who were going through particularly difficult financial times.
We weren’t starving, but the lunch certainly helped. And while some view programs like this is a handout, that isn’t always the case as they can be a great benefit to communities. Although not everyone agrees, this seems to be the case with a recent trend in schools helping out struggling families by feeding children an extra meal before sending them home for the day.
In light of the economic downturn, there have been a number of schools that have begun serving students supper in addition to the breakfast and lunch they’re already being provided during a typical day at school.
These programs are made possible through the government-funded Child and Adult Care Food Program, and are most often offered to students who are enrolled in after-school activities. According to a recent article from NPR, the number of programs has multiplied in the last several years, spreading from six to all 50 states.
Parents of students who are enrolled in the program are grateful for the service, as it’s provided their children with a hot meal they might not have otherwise had. These families have been forced to enroll their children in the program for a number of reasons including income loss, job loss, or both parents working opposite shifts to make ends meet.
But some are opposed to the program, saying it’s unnecessary, and that feeding a child dinner is the parents’ responsibility – not the school’s. Radio personality Rush Limbaugh agrees, saying school dinners are a manifestation of the ‘nanny state.’
“I am stunned here, because if we’re going to feed kids supper at school…why go home? Just raise them all 24/7 at the school,” said Limbaugh. “All they do at home is sleep!”
But the fact is, some people, no matter how hard working they are, fall on hard times. And their kids can suffer because of that. But these programs help to alleviate that.
The effects of the economic downturn are apparent as studies of the recession have indicated a rise in the number of community food banks. And the number of “food insecure” families in the U.S. leaped from 36 million to 49 million between 2021 and 2021. So for the time being, it seems services like the supper program are serving a great need in our communities – helping struggling families get through harsh economic times.
At the time I was receiving a free meal as a child, I didn’t see it as a hand out that I should feel guilty about. I simply saw it as a turkey sandwich, a carton of milk, and an apple that I might’ve otherwise gone without. And for families who are struggling to make ends meet like we were, this is likely how they view it, too.