Sunday Reflections: There is No Such Thing as a Free Lunch?

The tickets were a different color. That’s what I remember about being on the free and reduced lunch program after my parents got divorced and we tried to make it as a single income family. The tickets were a different color so every kid knew that you were poor. There was great shame that came […]

The tickets were a different color. That’s what I remember about being on the free and reduced lunch program after my parents got divorced and we tried to make it as a single income family. The tickets were a different color so every kid knew that you were poor. There was great shame that came with handing that ticket to the lunch lady. But that shame didn’t overwrite my hunger, so I handed it to her and I ate.

sundayreflections1

This past week, Betsy DeVos made the comment that there is no such thing as a free lunch. And that is technically true. Lunches, even lunches that come free to children in our nation’s schools, cost someone money. I, personally, don’t mind paying taxes to help make sure that children don’t go hungry.

Here’s the thing about children. They are our most vulnerable population. They are developing and forming and every thing that happens to and around them affects them. Hunger. Poverty. It affects them. And because it affects them, it affects all of us.

I am a Christian and since this is a Sunday, let me turn now to the Bible. Once there was a man named Jesus who stood before a large crowd and he was going to deliver what we would call today a sermon. He was teaching them. But he looked out among them and saw that they were hungry and he understood they would not be able to listen and learn while their bellies rumbled with hunger pains, so he fed them. This is the Sermon on the Mount. The feeding of the multitude. The story of when a man named Jesus took some loaves and fishes and fed thousands of hungry people so that he could teach them.

We can argue about the best ways to feed starving children. But there are hungry kids sitting in our public schools – current statistics indicate 1 in 5 of every kid – and they already have a lunch time and a lunch program, so free and reduced lunches make sense. It’s a distribution program in place that works.

There has been a lot of talk since the election about rural poverty. No one, they claim, cares about poor rural people and that is why we are here. Ironically, cutting school lunch programs would dramatically hurt those living in rural poverty. I know, because I work in an area with high amounts of rural poverty. In fact, I recently did a long series of Tweets about what is was like working with these teens. I share that story with you here because it seems relevant to this conversation we keep having.

It’s true, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Someone, somewhere is paying for that lunch. But I’m not in the business of punishing children, affecting their health and development, and compromising our future for some negative ideology that overlooks the very real causes of poverty and puts more money into the hands of rich people while children sit hungry in the classroom and can’t focus on learning because their teacher’s voice isn’t louder than the growling in their bellies. I’d rather my taxes go to feed hungry children then pay for our billionaire president’s many vacations or to increase our capacity to kill the world a thousand times over by developing more nuclear weapons. Investing in children is an investment in America.

This is what it's like working with teens living in rural poverty in a small Midwestern town//


This is what it's like working with teens living in rural poverty in a small Midwestern town



  1. If you would like, please gather round for a look at teenage life in poor(er) rural America. Multiple tweets to follow.


  2. Just five minutes ago, I sat in a busy, active Teen Makerspace with 24 teens. In a moment, they are all gone. Just like that. Why?


  3. They all left to go to the local hot meal. This happens every week night like clockwork. They're here, then there are gone. Poverty & hunger


  4. are so rampant in this rural town that local churches/organizations have a steady, weekly rotation of hot meals for the public. My teens


  5. know the schedule by heart. The staff does as well, because it is the most frequent question we get asked after where's the bathroom.


  6. They come here after school and stay until closing. Sometimes parents come check on them in between going from one part-time job to the next


  7. Many of them are in foster care. They share stories of abuse, sexual violence, drug use and more. They are bored, restless, scared.


  8. Our schools are failing because there is no $ and no one will vote for a levy because they can't afford higher taxes.


  9. One girl wore broken glasses for months because she can only get new ones 1 day a year when the local place has a free clinic.


  10. Some of my teens have teeth rotting out because they can't afford to go to a dentist. No one makes fun of them because they all know and


  11. and understand here what it's like to live in poverty. They know what it's like to be hungry. To have your electricity or water turned off.


  12. They talk openly about it all because it's all they know and they have no shame. They don't have space for your shame. They are surviving.


  13. There are a few pockets of more middle class in this town, but overall we have a high amount of poverty, poor health, instability, low ed.


  14. These parents are trying hard in a system designed for them to fail. There are no jobs locally, not good paying ones. And you need cars &


  15. childcare to get out of town for the better paying jobs. Or for cultural experiences. Or for anything that isn't mass marketed & cheap.


  16. It's a never ending cycle. One illness, one car break down, and they fall back down the ladder. And it keeps repeating, because the system


  17. that's designed to hold them down is very good at it.


  18. These are children. Teenagers yes, but children. When they turn 15 many of them will get jobs. They will try & go to school, but they need


  19. the $ more immediately then they need the education. They need to eat. Electricity. Running water. Education is a luxury here for those who


  20. can afford to stay in instead of dropping out and working.


  21. So remember when you are talking about poverty, you are talking about real people. Most of them the hardest working people you'll ever meet.


  22. And remember that these kids love like this because of us. Because of our laws, our systems, our decisions. But we can also work to change.


  23. Things they need:
    To be valued, respected, cared for
    Parents w/jobs that have livable wages & benefits so they can be more present in the


  24. Life of their children
    Quality public education
    Health care
    Nutritious food
    Cultural opportunities like field trips to museums & plays


  25. Side note: so many schools no longer have field trips, which is the only way many kids go to museums, plays, etc. Another huge loss for all.


  26. Some of these teens are born and raised here & have never been out of this small town because how could they get there? They can't.


  27. In a half hour they will all walk back to the library in the freezing rain and stay until close. Then they'll go to wherever it is they are


  28. sleeping tonight. For some, it will be home. For others, it won't. In the mean time, I'm honored to sit in this space w/them & listen, teach


 

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