As a mom, and as a child who grew up eating a reduced price hot lunch, I am so proud of the food subsidy programs we offer students in Vermont schools.
I recently read that 40% of Vermont students are eligible for free hot lunch. That is a huge portion, and yet we as a community have found ways to get healthy, well-balanced meals to each one of those kids. In true VT fashion, there is even a Farm to School program. The program supports our hard-working farmers and provides food education. I love that fresh, local produce is brought into our cafeterias.
As a young girl, growing up in one of our tight-knit towns here in Vermont, I didn’t fully appreciate how supportive the community was of my family and families like mine. I didn’t appreciate how tax dollars, and families that sent envelopes of money into school, were helping to provide me and other students with a complete meal at lunchtime.
Instead, I felt ashamed to be poor.
I felt like a “have-not” in a school full of “haves”. I would wait at the back of the lunch line, far away from friends and teachers, and when it came time to pay for my tray of food, I’d thrust my $0.40 into the cashier’s hand. I’d pray that they didn’t ask any questions that others might overhear. I’m not completely sure why I was so embarrassed to pay the reduced cost for lunch. I suppose I was afraid of being looked down on by my peers, because back then, I associated popularity with financial status. In reality, I associated popularity with many things that all seem pretty silly now.
When I completed paperwork for my son to start kindergarten, two things stood out to me about the lunch program. One, it was free for qualifying families.
How cool is that for a family, perhaps a family like mine that has one parent and multiple kids, and money for food is tight. Second, the system is mostly electronic. So when a child goes up to get lunch, they can give their name and the electronic system inconspicuously pulls the funds from their account, or elsewhere. I hope this means less shame or anxiety for students as they get the nourishment they so need to continue learning through the day.
I might’ve been an embarrassed adolescent when I ate my reduced, $0.40 lunch, but now that I have a child in school, and I’ve gotten to know many families in our community, I have a sense of pride that we are able to support families by providing food security in our schools.
Have you had a chance to check out the delicious meals at your child’s school?