Friday, May 20, 2016

No Free Lunch in Indiana

An open letter to the editors at NUVO

Posted By on Fri, May 20, 2016 at 7:27 PM

click to enlarge school-lunch.jpg

By N. Oglesby

After reading the Indy Star article about Republican Representative Todd Rokita’s latest bill, I was appalled. This bill would change the federal school lunch program to ease nutritional standards and more importantly, make it harder for schools to qualify for federal assistance so they can offer free meals schoolwide. I then began to think about the little girl who attended an elementary school that I was working with and the note she wrote in crayon and gave to the school coordinator. The note said that she didn’t have any food in her house and that she was sad and hungry. This little girl also drew a picture of herself and her little brother with tears coming from their faces.
According to the Kids Count Data Center 2015 data, 22% of Indiana’s children live in households that were food insecure at some point during the year. Additionally, in the United States, 15 million children face hunger (Feeding America, 2016). For those children who are school age, the approved bill that Rokita authored is going to make it even harder for these children to get a free meal at school. It is going to be harder in part because for the past two years, schools could offer free meals to all students if at least 40 percent were already receiving certain other types of government assistance however, Rokita’s bill would raise that requirement to 60 percent. What is the impact of this bill for the State of Indiana? In Indiana, 120 schools serving nearly 58,000 students would no longer qualify for a schoolwide free meal program, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington. An additional 231 schools in Indiana would lose the chance to use the program in the future.

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It appears that Rokita is not concerned with the devastating impact that food insecurity causes for all people, but especially children. He must not care about how some children in poverty stricken neighborhoods rely on school meals during the week for sustenance. Additionally, he could not know that some children’s only meal is that lunch they receive at school in which he is trying to remove. To deny a child of a meal in the name of government savings is criminal and the politicians’ who voted in favor of such a thoughtless bill should be arrested for “neglect of a minor”. This is yet another example of how those in power, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant males, “blame the victim” and in this case school age children are being blamed and face consequences for circumstances that are beyond their control.
As a part of the Snickers candy bar marketing campaign the well-known tag line, “You are not yourself, when you’re hungry” is the second thought that came to mind when I read newspaper article. Obviously, there is some truth to that tag line along with many other adults and consumers of the Snickers candy bar. The creators took a comedic approach to make a salient point and to sell candy bars, but the message rings out loud and clear. Hunger produces symptoms such as irritability, headaches, low energy, lack of concentration and weakness. If these negative effects of hunger are the case for me and possibly the experience of the creators of the Snickers commercial, I can only imagine how a young child or even a adolescent would feel in a classroom where they are supposed to be listening, focusing and learning or running, jumping, and being active and they are hungry with no opportunity to eat the lunch meal due to lack of money. How could any responsible adult expect a child to do their best at school when they are hungry and there is no money to pay for lunch? What are these children supposed to do? Grin and bear it? No, according to that ludicrous bill the students would have to hope that there are others who are in the same position as them so that their school meets the 60% requirement. This is so sad especially, since I have heard first-hand accounts from Gleaners Food Bank representatives about teachers sharing that they have seen students who were eating food out of the trash can in their classrooms.
Perhaps, Rokita was suffering from a short term bout of hunger when he created this bill and that someone in Washington will give him a Snickers candy bar instead of voting in support of this terrible legislation because he is obviously not himself and must be hungry. I wish. It seems that this outlandish bill, reducing free school lunches, may become a reality and an unfortunately, a chocolate candy bar will not remedy this issue.

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