Urging our nation's leaders to end hunger

Food Cannot Be Held Hostage

By Fito Moreno

Last Tuesday, 40 children at Uintah Elementary in Salt Lake City had their lunches snatched from them and thrown in the garbage. Let me repeat that, so the significance of this sinks in: 40 children were sitting in their school cafeteria, eating with their friends, when cafeteria workers came to their tables, picked up their food, and tossed it all into the trash.

These kids were subjected to this humiliation because a school employee wanted to make a statement about the outstanding balances on their lunch accounts. The school's child-nutrition manager decided to withhold lunches to deal with the issue—the child-nutrition manager, a person whose job it is to ensure schoolchildren receive proper nutrition, thought it acceptable to take food away from children in order to make a point to their parents.

I grew up straddling the lines between poor and lower-middle class. Most of my friends were in the same situation. Though we would horse around and play pranks on each other, we made a pact that we would never play pranks using food, because food was sacred and expensive. Our parents taught us that.

In Washington, D.C., where I grew up,  getting a good education meant either living in an affluent area, or going to a private school. My parents managed to scrape together enough cash to send me and my sister to Sacred Heart, a local private school that helped children from low-income families. I remember many kids there being in similar economic situations. Sometimes kids would “forget” their lunches, which was the code for their family not having enough. When this happened, teachers would tell everyone to share their meals with those who hadn't brought anything to eat. I had always assumed this was the norm.

When I first read the article about Uintah Elementary, I thought it must’ve been from a satirical publication, like the Onion—no school system would ever literally take food away from children, right? Sadly, I was wrong.    

The sad lesson that the children learn from this is that food is a privilege, not a right. The children were given milk and a piece of fruit after their food was thrown into the garbage, which sends the message that only people with money deserve to eat real meals. This is unacceptable.

I understand that debts must be paid, but food cannot be taken out of the hands of children. Meals cannot be held hostage. I felt disgusted when I read that this happened in an elementary school, and I feel the same way when I see it in Congress, as I watch politicians hold hostage programs that help poor and hungry people. It is up to us to let our school systems and politicians know that food can never be held hostage, and we must always share with those who don’t have enough.  

Fito Moreno is Bread for the World's media relations specialist.


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