School lunch worker calls free meals for all kids a 'waste' as districts tell parents to apply for support

Posted at 12:36 PM, Jul 18, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-11 16:34:34-04

(WXYZ) — "To give every single child in the district free lunch, I don't agree with it," said "Ann," who has worked in food services for an Oakland County school district for nearly 20 years.

She calls universal free meals for students that have been offered during the past two years because of the pandemic a "waste" because, too often, students whose parents could afford to pay for their meals would throw it in the trash.

Ann said the money would be better spent helping children whose only meal of the day is the free lunch they get at school.

"I'd always give them whatever I had leftover instead of throwing it away, because I knew they needed it," she said.

After two years, universal free meals for school children will end in the fall.

"I think it's a shame," said Angela Hunt, whose youngest son is about to enter the first grade. Her two older children went on to college.

Hunt said there was a time when her family narrowly missed the income requirements by just a small amount of money.

"There are kids who are hungry. There are kids whose parents won't say, 'hey, we don't have enough money to feed them breakfast or make sure they have a really good lunch,'" Hunt added. "In the scheme of things, it doesn't cost our government that much to provide meals for them."

"They are not going to do well in school without proper nutrition, that's it," said Mintie Washington who cares for her 8-year-old grandson, Elijah, while his parents are at work.

And while Elijah's parents can afford his meals for school, Washington, who has worked in Detroit's public school for 35 years, supports free meals for students without income requirements.

"Even if just cold cereal and milk and fruit. You don't have time to fix breakfast if you're waiting at 6:30 in the morning to get a bus," Washington said.

In Detroit, because there are so many low income households and those living in poverty, free meals have always been offered to children in the school district.

"Now that the economy is rebounding, if you will, we're faced with another situation, which is inflation," said Machion Jackson, Assistant Superintendent of Operations for Detroit Public Schools Community District. "And though families have returned back to work, they are still unable to feed their children to the extent that they would have prior to COVID. And so we're yet faced with food insecurity once again."

Jackson said being able to offer free meals to students regardless of a parent's income relieves them of any stigma that may be associated.

"It does reduce this feeling of 'I don't want anyone to know that there's food insecurity in my home. I don't want anyone to know that I am hungry.' It levels the playing field. So, whether it's those with means or those without, all are free to and welcome to obtain a nutritious free meal."

To help combat hunger through the summer, beginning Thursday, July 21, all children living in the city of Detroit can have six meals picked up for them by their parents or guardians at select summer school locations between 1 pm and 1:30 pm.

For each child, three breakfast meals and three lunch meals will be given for that child to eat Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.

The program, supported by funding through President Biden's Keep Kids Fed Act, will continue every Thursday through the end of summer school.

Click here to see the list of schools offering the 1 pm to 1:30 pm pickup times.

Each child must be age 5 to 18 years old and they DO NOT need to be enrolled in a Detroit public school.

Jackson said the great distinction in this particular waiver is that it allows them to dispense multiple meals at once, which "decreases the daily dependency of finding transportation to a school to collect a meal."

In other communities, school districts are encouraging parents and guardians to apply for free or reduced-price meals for their children because the USDA has raised income requirements.

Hunt wishes school meals would remain universal.

"It helps children who probably were hungry and didn't want to say anything. They knew they could have food and that's really important to me," she said. "Just to see kids doing well and knowing that at least at school, they can get food."