The sad truth: Despite the school lunch program, food stamps, and other programs, millions of schoolkids go hungry. This effects their performance and behavior along with their well-being. Teachers try to help. A recent survey shows that teachers spend an average of $37 a month out of their own pockets to help make up for the hunger gap.
On the other hand, there’s this Dickensian (in so many ways) story about the New Jersey school district that has adopted a policy of “No food for you!” when kids have no money.
When I saw the article in NEA TODAY, I immediately thought of Avon Little from Chain Gang Elementary.
Here’s the relevant passage from the novel:
Mrs. Little popped open the trunk, which was packed with grocery boxes and several dozen ten-packs of fruit juice. The back seat was filled, too, all the way to the roof. There had to be a ton of food in the car. Its suspension sagged under the weight.
“Did you hijack a grocery truck?” Richard asked.
She scowled, but her eyes twinkled. “Smart aleck. I bet you got in trouble all the time at school when you was a boy. Reason I do this is because they don’t give free breakfasts here, so I fill the gap.”
“Is this for the whole year?”
“Heavens, no! This may not last to September. I feed thirty kids each mornin’ before school, all grades. Be more this year. I got ten Chantilly kids, at least. I see kids aren’t getting fed at home, so I make sure they doan start the day empty. I give ’em something to take home, too.”
Richard did the math. Ten apartment kids in one class meant nearly two hundred in all. Guilt overcame him. Why didn’t I fight the redistricting? “How many students from the apartment complex in all?”
“Mrs. Baines says there’s fifty-six. I got all of ’em in third grade. Every blessed one. Any more come, I get them, too, I reckon. How’s that for coincidence?”
“It’s very strange,” he said, grabbing four packs of boxed orange juice, fighting back his growing anger. Taking the weakest students and dumping them in her class—ghettoizing, that’s what it was! An outrage!
Mrs. Little pulled a plastic sack from the trunk. “My husband died in Vietnam a long time ago, back when I was a young thing. I got no children of my own.” She looked off toward the pine trees along the school’s fence. “So I see them all as partly mine.”
“Do you pay for this yourself? I mean, I’m wondering why I haven’t heard about this. Seems like the PTO could help.”
After he followed the teacher inside, she gestured for him to put the drinks in the closet. “Miz R doesn’t officially admit I do this.” She put a finger to her lips. “She doesn’t wanna know. Have to admit we need a breakfast program or shut me down or somethin’. For me, it’s Christian duty. Can’t say that, though. Some folks think God wants nuthin’ to do with public schools, but they His children, too.”