Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Lines for Free School Lunches Grow as Economic Hardship Hits Home

Photo by Flickr user USDAgov

Sometimes life can get pretty difficult because of circumstances beyond our control, and when times get tough, it’s not just the parents who struggle. When I was in junior high, the lumber mill where my dad worked had to reduce its hours. I remember how much my parents worried, and how we lived in constant tension. I also remember feeling a bit of shame as the other kids dropped off their finished lunch trays in the school cafeteria, because I was the one who took these trays and washed the dishes in order to receive a free lunch.

Eventually, the mill went back to full-time hours, and there was lunch money left out for me every day. Although I was embarrassed before, I was grateful that there was a school-lunch option that helped my parents get through the rough times.

Today, more and more families are facing tough times as economic hardship is brought on by mass layoffs and nationwide underemployment. The New York Times reported yesterday that the lines for free school lunches recently grew exponentially -- an increase of 17 percent -- and many of the kids getting a free lunch are from formerly middle-class households:

"In Rochester, unemployed engineers and technicians have signed up their children after the downsizing of Kodak and other companies forced them from their jobs. Many of these formerly middle-income parents have pleaded with school officials to keep their enrollment a secret."

Economic struggle is a time of treading water until you can get firmly back on your feet and start moving forward again. Most families need to piece together safety net programs to meet their basic needs until they can spot the light at the end of the tunnel. For families with kids, free or reduced school lunches are one of the puzzle pieces. Furthermore, giving nutritious food to growing kids must be a high priority for all of us. As a Bread for the World Institute background paper points out:

“Children who experience hunger during the first three years of their lives can suffer damage to their health and development that is largely irreversible. Older children have difficulty concentrating and learning in school and are more prone to behavior problems. All of this can set up a destructive cycle that follows them into adulthood.”

Bread members know how important these lifesaving programs are in tough times. That's why, in 2010, so many of you called and wrote letters asking our members of Congress to pass The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act. That work is paying off today and many hungry kids are getting the food they need. Investing in child nutrition is investing in our present and our future.  

Robin-stephensonRobin Stephenson is a regional organizer at Bread for the World.



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