A school district in Rhode Island encountered a difficult situation. A family got behind in lunch payments. So the school handed out different meals to those students—and triggered a national outcry against “lunch shaming.”
Food is a basic life necessity. Jesus gave food away often: 5,000 fish here, 4,000 loaves there. As Creator, He knows that hearts, minds, and bodies work best with energy from good food. Educators know that too. Kids who eat regular meals and snacks perform better at school.
After forgetting to pay for lunches one week, Aniece Germain says her son received a SunButter sandwich in a Warwick, Rhode Island, district kindergarten. When she picked him up from school, he asked why she hadn’t paid for him.
To clarify: The Warwick school district didn’t starve kids, and it didn’t feed them unsafe food. It fed kids with unpaid bills a cold meal. Most of the time, it was a cheese sandwich, an item not on the cafeteria menu. The sandwich told everyone “My family didn’t pay my lunch bill.” It was embarrassing. For younger kids, it was confusing: Why isn’t Mom buying me lunch? And it punished the wrong person. After all, kids don’t pay the bills.
When word got out about the sandwiches, the school received phone calls and angry Facebook comments. So the district ditched that lunch plan. Problem solved? No. Now, officials must figure out how to pay for $77,000 of unpaid charges.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most school districts have unpaid meal charges. In the past, serving substitute meals was common.
New Mexico, California, Iowa, and Oregon have laws that forbid practices like stamping students’ hands or making them do chores. But serving alternative meals isn’t always banned.
After the Rhode Island situation, federal lawmakers introduced national “anti-lunch shaming” legislation to help protect children with unpaid accounts.
Reasons for unpaid charges vary. Some, like Aniece Germain, simply forget from time to time. Others struggle to make income meet expenses. Some feel embarrassed to apply—or don’t realize they qualify—for free or reduced-price lunches.
Providing free lunches for all students would end confusion about charges. But who pays for the free food? The people who bake the bread, make the cheese, or butcher the meat still need to be paid—as do those who deliver, serve, and clean up the food.
What a thorny issue! Lawmakers need wisdom and grace to untangle the problems of poverty and greed, selfishness and fear in the world. Christians believe God has dealt bountifully with them and will continue to do so. Therefore, they’re free to be generous with those who have less.
The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor. — Proverbs 22:9 NIV