I previously wrote a list of 5 reasons to pick up the free food from your child’s school district. The response was huge – much bigger than I expected!
I’m glad it was shared and discussed so extensively (23,000 times!), so that families could benefit from and support this wonderful program for all during this difficult time!
Here are the 5 reasons, at a glance:
- In many districts, the food is free to all kids 18 and under, no questions asked.
- For many districts, when the food is not picked up, the school district may receive less funding, which can lead to not being able to offer as much food, as well as employee layoffs.
- It can save the food from turning to waste.
- It’s comforting to kids to have familiar foods from their school.
- It saves you some stress of feeding your kids, as most of the food is ready-to-eat.
(You can read the full article here.)
We have consistently picked up the free food from our school’s district since shortly after it began. It has done so much for our family, and has lit up my kids’ days as they enjoy familiar foods from their school lunches.
But when I wrote my original post, I didn’t include an important part.
When schools switched to distance learning, I saw my kids’ schools posting on Facebook and in other communications that ALL families were encouraged to pick it up. I didn’t think much of it, but then I brought my daughter to her middle school to pick up her Chromebook for doing schoolwork, and items from her locker. It was one of several days for kids to pick up their things – a very sad experience for families – but one positive was that food was available for families to bring home as well.
I told my daughter we were going to pick it up, since the school was encouraging us to, but she said “No! Don’t!” She was embarrassed about it, and didn’t want to stand out as disadvantaged. I still pulled up to where the food was, and again my daughter said “No!” So I pulled up, but then felt unsure too. Then I pulled away without picking it up, and headed home.
I then saw more reminders about the food being there for everyone, so the next day it was available, I went to pick it up.
It was the easiest, most positive experience. The nutrition services staff were so nice and made it so quick and simple. All they asked were “How many?” I said two, for my two kids. They put it in my trunk, I said thanks, and that was it. Then each new day it was available I went back, and talked to them about it, learning how important it was to pick up the food, which led me to writing that original article.
So what’s the point I’m making?
One word. STIGMA.
The food being free to all removes the stigma of being “poor” or “disadvantaged.”
The nutrition services staff and anyone else who sees you pick up the food have no idea the level of your need. They just see you doing what the school district encouraged you to do – pick up the food.
Regardless of my personal situation, I didn’t feel stigmatized for picking up the food.
Of course, you may be in need – making it that much more essential that it be so easy to get.
But nonetheless, the stigma is removed.
My church supports an organization called KidPack in the west metro. It’s a program that provides weekend food for kids who qualify for free or reduced school meals, so that they don’t go hungry at home between Friday and Monday. Originally, the kids received the food in front of their peers. But this led to many kids not willingly taking the food, for fear of being judged by others.
So the volunteers changed how they distributed the food to make sure the kids got it and took it home. Instead of handing it out to kids directly, they opened up the kids’ lockers while they were in class, and put the food directly in their backpacks. This way, no one had to know who had it and who didn’t. This had better effectiveness because the stigma of being poor was removed.
I was involved in many discussions about this topic on Facebook after I wrote the article. One person thanked me, saying “I was a kid on free and reduced lunch when they had us use a different colored punch card. It was humiliating.” Many others including school districts shared the same perspective.
Bottom line, making the food free for all, it levels the playing field. It equalizes us all. It acknowledges that many of us are in need who may not even realize we are, or may not want to expose ourselves in that way. This means kids and adults alike.
Yes, adults can be hesitant to take food available to them in this way.
There is an enormous amount of information out there about this issue that food pantries have with social stigma.
Here are a few articles:
Thus, I add this 6th reason to pick up the free food from your child’s school district:
6. It removes the social stigma that would otherwise discourage families truly in need.
By welcoming ALL families to pick up this food, no one feels singled out and therefore no one feels discouraged from picking it up for their family. We are ALL in need and we are ALL in this together.
So just pick up the food.
Interestingly, I had intended to write this follow-up post right after I was interviewed for CCX Media for an article published on Tuesday, May 5th. For various reasons I didn’t get to write it right away, but now with the country erupting from coast to coast following the horrible murder of George Floyd, divisions and stigma are more important to address now than ever. We all can do so much better as a nation. Even in small ways, like removing the every day barriers that divide us, including in how we receive our food.
Food for the summer
Though the school year is ending, some districts are extending the free food availability at least through June. Check out my guide to free summer meals for kids in Minnesota 2020:
Here are other resources for finding resources and food for your family (much of which is also available to all, no questions asked):