|"Lunch angel" Kenny Thompson|
Photo credit: Kenny Thompson
Kenny Thompson is a "lunch angel," hopefully one of many in the coming days. He works as a tutor and student mentor at Valley Oaks Elementary School in Houston, Texas, and his wife teaches there. Recently he heard the news that a school lunch supervisor in Utah had taken away lunches from kids whose lunch money balance was zero or negative. The kids went through the lunch line, but their lunches were taken away from them when they got to the cash register, and they were given milk and a piece of fruit, instead. (The lunch was deep dish pizza and salad.)
This bothered Kenny, because he knew some of the students he worked with might be in the same situation. He decided to do something about that. He went to the lunch supervisor's office and asked how many kids' accounts were in arrears and how much it would cost to fix the problem. The answer was that over 60 students at his school were eating cold cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of the normal not lunch because they didn't have any money in their accounts.
If you think this does not happen at your local school, think again. This is standard practice, folks, in public schools across the nation! For some reason that I don't understand, kids nowadays go through the lunch line and at the end of the line (instead of at the beginning), the kids punch in a four-digit code on a keypad. As soon as they press "enter," the cafeteria supervisor can see how much money they have in their account. Why don't they punch in their numbers before they go through the line? I have no idea, except to say that the line is generally set up to get the most kids through the line quickly. Lunch and recess are only 30 minutes these days, so the kids need to get through the line, eat their lunch and get outside to play in a short amount of time. Why do they have so little time? Don't get me started...
The amount needed to rectify the problem at Valley Oaks Elementary, at least for the time being, was $465. Kenny knew that if he used his savings to help out, he wouldn't be able to afford the Doc Martens he was planning to buy, but he decided that the kids' lunches were way more important. His old boots will do nicely, thank you very much, he says.
One of Kenny's students broke down in tears when he learned that he would be able to eat the regular lunch. He told Kenny that he sometimes said he wasn't hungry so he didn't have to go through the line and be embarrassed. (If you think the kids don't know why some of their peers are eating cold sandwiches instead of hot lunch, you are dreaming!)
It appears that some other people may be getting the nudge to be "hot lunch angels" in their own communities. Full-price hot lunches are only about $2 per meal, and the kids who are on "reduced-price lunches" only have to pay about 40 cents per meal. That means just $4 will feed a child on reduced-price lunches for two full weeks at school.
To bring you up to speed on the situation in Utah, the cafeteria manager and her supervisor were put on paid leave while the incident is being investigated. The school has apologized to parents.
If you are wondering what to do with your tax refund dollars, you might consider making a small contribution to the school lunch program in your community. Any amount will be appreciated :-)