Anyone with a brain and a stomach knows that nothing kills your aptitude for learning, productivity or your mood faster than not being able to eat when you’re hungry. That’s doubly true for kids, who are growing and particularly at risk for becoming hangry, especially at school.
So now imagine a hungry kid who couldn’t get a hot meal because his parents forgot to top off the balance. Imagine trying to explain to them why you have to throw away their tray of food. It’s bound to make you either sad or angry, assuming you have a heart to add to that stomach-brain combo. Pennsylvania cafeteria worker Stacy Kolitska didn’t have to imagine it. She was asked to do it, and she quit her job because of it.
Good for her.
Kolitska, who worked the register at an elementary school cafeteria in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, quit after she felt her moral sensitivities were being tromped on. The schools there had instituted a new policy that requires cafeteria workers to deny kids whose unpaid lunch balances are over $25 a hot meal, give them two pieces of bread and cheese instead and eighty-six the perfectly good food. Parents were still charged for the meal their kids didn’t eat, which racks up that balance even further. She decided she couldn’t keep looking at hungry little faces and trashing trays of perfectly good uneaten food, so she resigned.
It’s entirely understandable that schools need to recoup the losses they incur when families can’t pay for meals. After all, that money has to come from somewhere, and the policy the schools in the Canon-McMillan School District enacted seems to be working a little at least — the amount of money owed by families in the district has dropped from $60,000 to $100,000 last year down to $20,000 this year. Of course, it is only September, so school’s been in session for only four weeks. But, you know, good for them.
What isn’t good is how little sense this makes. It’s great that the kids are still getting food. Anything less would be practically Dickensian — although there’s something a little Oliver Twist-ish about a lunchroom dotted with kids munching on cheese slices. That’s got to function as a little “look who can’t afford food today” signpost, which can’t be good for self-esteem. And while the policy isn’t directed at kids on the reduced-lunch program — which has a laughable bar of income entry for families of three at $37,000 — that doesn’t change the fact that this doesn’t target the people it should be targeting. Instead, it punishes kids for their parents’ actions, whether those actions are a result of circumstances inside or outside of the parents’ control.
No lunch for you, kids! That’ll teach you to be born into families that can’t pay us for whatever reason!
It’s not as if they’re really saving the money either. Why set up these kids to have their lunch trays torpedoed after they’ve already deposited onto it? Presumably that’s why the food needs to be tossed — there are health code violations at play. But hey, it won’t stick without a little shame thrown in for reinforcement, right?
But what this one comes down to is Kolitska’s willingness to be pretty much the only adult in some of these kids’ lives who’s willing to lead by example. Kolitska is a Christian, she told The Washington Post, and the idea of trashing a hungry kid’s food doesn’t gel particularly well with her beliefs. So she refused to continue doing it. There’s a message our kids could benefit from: standing up for what you believe is right, even when it could be detrimental to yourself.
Or they could learn generosity from the inmates at a nearby prison, who have offered to send food from the prison to the school so kids don’t need to go hungry or feel ashamed at lunchtime. They’ve got to learn it somewhere, and it doesn’t look like the Canon-McMillan school board is up to the task.