This is from the Everett, WA Herald newspaper. It's about the town I live in. This has been in the news here for the last week and it makes me wonder -WTF were they thinking?
By Julie Muhlstein, Herald Columnist
Innocent children. No lunch money. Food denied.
What a perfect recipe for the heated brouhaha stirred up last week when the public caught wind of a new Edmonds School District lunch policy. Before officials changed their minds Thursday, the district had started the school year enforcing a pay-or-else practice that was nothing short of Dickensian.
Kids behind on bills had cafeteria lunches taken away -- and thrown away, because of food safety rules -- after they'd gone through lunch lines. A substituted cheese sandwich must have been cold comfort after a child was embarrassed in front of other kids.
Reading all that, I could almost hear echoes of Oliver Twist in the work house, holding his bowl for gruel and begging, "Please sir, I want some more."
A day after adding milk to the meager fare, the Edmonds district decided instead to suspend the new policy while seeking a better solution to the lunch budget crunch.
In Herald reporter Kaitlin Manry's article on the issue Wednesday, the money pinch hurting so many families was thrown right in our faces, particularly in the words of Hazelwood Elementary School cashier Barbara Burley: "Could you look into a kindergartner's eyes and take away their lunch and give them a cold cheese sandwich and nothing else?"
No doubt the district's lunch-money shortfall of $207,763 last year had myriad causes, from forgetful kids and irresponsible parents to children who brought sack lunches but decided instead to have cafeteria food. Part of it, though, is real need.
We all know that. Somewhere between paychecks many families bring home, even with several jobs, and the qualifying income for free lunches, is poverty in the shadows. With high costs for housing, groceries, gas and everything else, there is no question some families' cupboards and cash reserves are frighteningly bare.
Of course readers were disturbed by the lunch take-away policy, which put kids on the front line. Manry listened to callers and answered e-mail about the issue all week. What disturbed me was thinking that this is what it takes to stir people up about families in need -- an up-close scenario of a kindergartner being denied a school lunch.
We know there are poor families. We know there are kids living in cars in our own county. We know it, but rarely do we see it. Or think about it. Or get upset enough to do a thing.
Nina Mellish, of Bothell, was upset enough to contact The Herald. The 71-year-old has worked as a teacher's aide and a social worker. In Salem, Ore., she worked at a school in a poor neighborhood where the PTA helped pay for free breakfasts and lunches.
"A lot of these kids would come to school in winter with rubber boots and no shoes or socks," Mellish said. She's seen kids who've had nothing but potato chips for breakfast. "There is no way we should be penalizing a small child," Mellish said. "I really believe little kids should be cared for."
That's a simple statement, but a profound one. It goes way beyond lunches, to health care, educational opportunities and emotional needs. Yes, parents should be responsible. But no, sometimes they are not, for whatever reasons. And kids should be cared for. Period.