Friend of Families for Justice and UW–Madison professor Jennifer Gaddis is an expert on public-school lunch programs and the author of The Labor of Lunch: Why We Need Real Food and Real Jobs in American Public Schools. She published an op-ed in the New York Times in February 2020 on the need for all families to participate in school lunch programs. Here she highlights the opportunity to invest in MMSD school lunches even as the pandemic keeps us learning online. For middle class families wishing to incorporate a reparations angle to this action, consider redirecting money you would have spent on lunch groceries to local grassroots organizations led by people of color.
From Jennifer Gaddis:
MMSD's curbside meal pick up program is for ALL kids age 18 and younger. Even if your child didn't eat school meals before MMSD switched to remote schooling, there are reasons why it is a good idea to take advantage of the free school meals being offered:
Picking up school meals for your own children doesn't mean other children will go hungry. The federal government reimburses MMSD a set amount based on each meal served. Picking up meals actually *helps* the MMSD school nutrition department's budget since it brings in more federal dollars.
The more school meals MMSD produces, the cheaper each meal is to produce. This means the district can spend more money on better quality ingredients. This matters for food justice and racial equity since the vast majority of students who participate in the district's school meal program are students of color and those whose families qualify for free or reduced-price meals based on their income level. Every meal served helps MMSD provide these kids with better meals.
The more kids that eat school meals, the more kitchen and cafeteria workers MMSD needs to employ. Participating in the program can help prevent MMSD from laying off cafeteria workers or cutting their hours.
Last but not least, school meals can be a source of comfort and excitement for kids who are at home doing remote learning. And picking up school meals can save families/caregivers time and money.
School meal programs across the country are going broke, as this Civil Eats article explains. We need to contact our elected officials and take advantage of this moment to advocate for a values-based universal free school meal program. In the meantime, at the local level, something as simple as picking up a box of free school meals can help ensure the financial viability of a program that over 22 million children from low-income families depend on in order to get enough to eat.
Even though meals are free to all students aged 18 and younger, it is important to fill out the application for free or reduced-price meals if your children qualify. The waiver that allows free meals for all will expire on December 31, 2020 or sooner if federal funding runs out. Families that have not filled out the application would be charged full price for meals at that point. The application can also benefit families by making them eligible for things like fee waivers, bus passes and activities fees. And when families submit their free/reduced-price meal applications, MMSD benefits by being able to demonstrate a higher level of need throughout the district when applying for funding and grants. Please encourage the families you know to apply.