Last week a woman working in the lunch room of a Colorado elementary school was fired for giving children who had forgotten their lunch money free meals. However, rightfully so, she doesn't feel sorry for it and would do it again.
35 year-old Della Curry told ABC News' Clayton Sandell, "I was let go for not charging for all of the food I gave to the students. I would have kids start crying when I told them they didn't have money in their account because they were terrified of getting the cheese sandwich."
Despite being a lovely human being and making sure children weren't forced to leave the lunch room hungry, she lost her job, which is pretty freaking confusing. The policy of the elementary school is to allow students a hot lunch three times when they forget their money, and on the fourth time they are given a hamburger bun with a single slice of cheese and a carton of milk. Although the parent's accounts are charged for the three meals a child is allowed to miss, the question is raised as to whether or not it is ethical to house children in an environment where their nutritional needs are not being met.
The National School Lunch Program was put into place to prevent events like this from happening, yet there seems to be something missing from the equation. According to the USDA, the lunch program invites all students whose parental income is below the poverty line to free hot lunches. Furthermore, students can receive discounted lunches if their household income is close to the poverty line. Students whose families live above the poverty line are expected to pay full price. One would think that it would be simple to provide students the necessary nutrition, but the USDA School Lunch Program doles out billions back to participating schools each year in reimbursment for these meals. At the end of the day, schools set the price of their lunches, and the program will reimburse back the school depending on a percentage. Essentially the government will reimburse schools for the cost of lunch up to 2.93 for students receiving free lunch, indicating that that's the general price meals should run for in the current school system. However, the topic is tricky seeing as most schools are already incredibly underfunded and understaffed. To support a cafeteria a school needs to pay workers and for supplies for said lunches. However, in the case of Della Curry the food she was being asked to deny students was being thrown away at the end of each day.
It's clear our children cannot go hungry, and the idea that some young minds are being sent back to classrooms on practically empty stomachs cannot stand.
In 2013, a study was conducted by Feeding America and found that 15.8 million children in America alone live in food-insecure houses. This means that most of the time these children are coming to school hungry or going back to a house where they may not have access to the most nutritious dinners. For optimal cognitive growth, a child needs roughly 1400 calories of food per day and a variety of whole grains, protein, fruits and vegetables. When a child comes from a low-income family, their dietary needs are more often than not already falling short of what they need to learn. When you add in the factor of schools not being able to fiscally provide children with at least one meal a day that is healthy and filling, the child's learning abilities are impaired.
Being hungry makes it difficult to focus, makes a child's mood more surly and makes it more difficult for them to retain information. In short, when we are unable to provide our students with their nutritional needs their education is failing them. This is something Della Curry understood when she fought against the idea of providing a child with simply bread and cheese for lunch. When you consider that the cost to feed and house a federal prisoner per year is $31,286 per inmate in taxpayer dollars and it costs roughly $10,615 to send a child to public school per year, the answer seems simple to provide more nutritional options to children in-school. I'm not suggesting that federal prisoners be treated to less. I'm simply pointing out that when you stare at the fiscal numbers between the two institutions, it would ultimately benefit our future to pour more money into feeding hungry bodies and minds.
In the specific case of Della Curry it's difficult to determine whether these children she was providing lunch for were taking part in the assisted lunch program or whether they simply were forgetting their money at home. However, this shouldn't have factored into the equation: children should be provided with a hot, nutritious meal in schools whether they come from affluent families or not.
When you begin deciding which students should be assisted and which ones should not, you bring up the emotional baggage that comes with asking a child to tell you they're unable to feed themselves at home. By implementing across-the-board free breakfast and lunches to students, the school system is investing in the mental and physical well-being of the future of our country.
Della Curry is a woman who did what anyone with a heart would: she gave help to those who needed and asked for it. Her firing represents a deep disconnect the american education system has with seeing learning as a holistic thing children must immerse themselves in.
By asking Curry to turn away students without lunch, the school district was asking her to send back fatigued minds into the classroom. How can we expect children to succeed when their dietary needs are not being met? How can we expect our literacy rates to rise if our youth's brains are too distracted by hunger to focus on the information we expect them to know?
It is impossible to deny how costly an across-the-board lunch and breakfast program would cost, but it is also impossible to deny how necessary it is. Without feeding our children we are letting them know that their hunger is an afterthought, that their minds are not worth molding properly, and that we will continue to push along the future of our country with abandon.