While everyone would agree that children should never be denied a healthy and nutritious lunch, especially while attending school, the fact is that there are children in this country who simply cannot afford their school lunch. After the school district of Warwick Public Schools in Rhode Island announced that any child who could not pay their outstanding balance on their school lunch account would only be served a lunch of "sun butter and jelly" sandwiches until the balance was paid or a payment plan established the school board was met with a huge backlash.
NPR reports that the school district was facing approximately $77,000 in overdue fines this year and was implementing the cuts as a way to curtail their debt, however many felt that the children shouldn't be the ones who had to suffer. As a result of the story going viral, yogurt company Chobani stepped up and paid almost $50,000 towards the debt.
"As a parent, news of #WarwickPublicSchools breaks my heart. every child should have access to natural, nutritious & delicious food, so @Chobani is doing our small part to help pay this debt. Business must do its part.. our responsibility as members of community. who will join us?" CEO Hamdi Ulukaya wrote in a tweet he posted to his personal Twitter page.
as a parent, news of #WarwickPublicSchools breaks my heart. every child should have access to natural, nutritious & delicious food, so @Chobani is doing our small part to help pay this debt— Hamdi Ulukaya (@hamdiulukaya) May 9, 2019
business must do its part.. our responsibility as members of community. who will join us? pic.twitter.com/6HOTjDE4CX
The school, which had previously turned down a local businesswoman's offer to pay $4000 towards lunch debt, has had a change of heart since the backlash and will now allow students to choose any lunch regardless of their account balance. Karen Bachus, Chairwoman of the Warwick School Committee pointed out that there are over 1600 students who are carrying outstanding school lunch balances, ranging anywhere from $1 in arrears to $500! She also pointed out that not everyone who is behind in paying their lunch debt is part of their school's lunch program, stating that the majority are not. "72% of balances are from students who are not enrolled in the Free and Reduced Lunch Program," she wrote on Facebook, while only 28% of the students with an outstanding balance are enrolled in the program.
Those opposed to feeding the children sun butter and jelly sandwiches felt that "lunch shaming" children, because their parents may not be able to afford to send them lunch to school, was reaching a new low. Some pointed out that for many children a school lunch may be the only hot meal they receive a day, so denying them that meal would seriously impact their health and nutrition.
Bachus commented on the school board's Facebook page that they are hoping to find a balance between keeping the children fed and not incurring a huge lunch debt each year. "With this Policy, we seek to find a balance between being fiscally responsible and ensuring that all our students are provided with a healthy, nutritious lunch. With respect to donations, we are grateful for any financial support that has been offered. We are working with our attorneys to ensure that we accept donations in compliance with the law and that the donations are applied in an equitable manner."
Chobani confirmed the school accepted their donation. The company also plans to donate cups and yogurt to the community in Warwick as well.
The Providence Journal reports that Bachus is concerned that those who are well-meaning may be missing the point, noting that many of those who have outstanding lunch balances come from families who are capable of paying their debt, they simply haven't. Others, she points out, simply haven't filed the paperwork to ask for lunch assistance. “What happens to responsibility?” she asked. “When you have children, you are responsible for them.”