New York City will be offering free school lunches for all 1.1 million of its students
[NYT article, in case you're counting your free articles] -- and this a very, very good thing. I hope more cities/counties around the country will offer this to their students. Full stomachs can lead to full minds.
I was also a recipient of the free/reduced lunch program for most of my 1-12 school existence (I skipped kindergarten because I'm just that cool or maybe that explains my poor social skills, anyway) and it was certainly something. Both of my parents worked full time -- they were also college students, and money was always tight. Most of the kids in my elementary school got free/reduced lunches -- we all had pin numbers to punch in when it came time to pay, so it was easy to tell who had to punch in and who would pay with cash or with preloaded cards. M
ost of the time, I didn't see it as a humiliation, as seems to be the norm in stories like this. I knew I was poor. So were my friends. We lived in the Section 8 housing down the the hill from the school, we knew we were poor. Lunch was lunch. It was ... kind of terrible because we didn't have Michelle Obama repping for us. I'll always have a deep-seated hatred for tomato soup (aka pure liquid acid) thanks to the school lunches I've eaten.
My school also have free/reduced price breakfast, which must've been a godsend for my parents. I remember being bundled off, nice and snug, and sent up the frozen hill to have breakfast (a styrofoam cup of oatmeal, a piece of fruit and the ever present carton of milk) before classes started.
I was still on free lunches when my family moved from our working class neighborhood (and I should mention that while 'working class' seems to be code for 'white working class' in the US -- our neighborhood in St. Paul was mostly people of color who worked, God, they worked so hard to keep their heads above the water) to the tony white suburb for my high school days, I realized that people noticed and minded
that I had free lunches. I hated the stares I would get when lining up to get lunch. I hate people knowing that I was too poor to go out with the rest of the kids to get Chinese from the nearby restaurant. After all, I didn't have a car either -- I walked to school (it was a half a mile one way -- really good exercise that I never quite appreciated.)
Sometime during my junior year of high school, the free lunch program got cut. Or I didn't qualify anymore. I stopped eating lunch at school. Instead, during lunch time, I'd go to the library and read (I once scared a librarian by lounging about, reading In Cold Blood
carelessly), or log into one the computers and play Neopets. (I knew I was too old for Neopets, but --) I subsisted on Altoids and water in the vague hopes that it makes me thin and interesting (it did not) -- it was fucked up and dumb, but I was seventeen and all I could think of was that at least those kids won't stare at me anymore.
Of course, not having free lunch screwed me over in other ways -- kids on the free/reduced lunch program got reduced rates for the ACT and SAT (so given the choice, I took the ACT -- no big Eastern colleges for me) and the AP tests (I still managed to take and get good results for Bio, English Lit & Comp, Stats & Chem tho.) It taught me a lesson about financial management, at least -- in college I was meticulous
about getting my FAFSA, complete and early.
So, yeah, long story short -- free lunches are good! Getting rid of the stigma is good! Kids deserve to be nourished, both their minds and bodies! High-schoolers should not be playing with Neopets!
Thank you for reading. ♥