Uintah Elementary alumna: school lunch fiasco highlights income disparities

Uintah Elementary was my elementary school, this was my neighborhood. I have fond memories of my years there. It was a carefree time with kickball and science fairs, and all the great adventures that come with those first important years of school. One thing I don’t remember–I don’t ever remember worrying about whether or not I would have lunch.

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If you’re like me, all the talk of school lunches being taken from gradeschoolers has left me with many emotions.

Sadness for the children who were subjected to the humiliation. We’ve all been there. School is hard enough without the grownups piling on to the already mounting fears, doubts and low self worth.

Frustration over the stupid bureaucratic rules that were put in place.

Anger at the adults who decided to implement and then follow those rules when faced with the realities of the situation.

But there is another emotion I have been feeling lately and that is of embarrassed privilege.

Uintah is in a predominantly white middle-to-upper class neighborhood. It has some of the highest volunteer hours because the neighborhood has many stay-at-home moms. Fundraisers are crazy successful. The PTA and Community Council are overflowing with volunteers and opportunities. When you think of free school lunch–this is not the school that will come to mind. Yet it took this school to make people notice.

This is not a new policy, implemented only in east-side schools. This has been happening in other schools throughout the valley, and likely in other districts. Where is the outrage when it occurs in an inner-city school? Where are the State Senators when a handful of young, ethnically diverse kids have their lunches thrown in the trash and are handed milk and an orange?

I don’t doubt the sincerity of either Senator Dabakis or Senator Weiler. They were responding to the public outcry, rightly so. But why hasn’t there been a public outcry sooner? Why did it take an east-side school with a very low percentage of subsidized lunches, to make people want to grab the pitchforks and torches and hunt down the cafeteria ladies?

We need to change this policy. We need better solutions. It doesn’t take a mountain of research (although it exists) for us to know that good nutrition is a crucial element to a child’s success in school.

But we also need to pay closer attention to our at-risk kids. We need to ask the questions instead of waiting for it to affect a parent who knows how to get the news media involved. How many children have milk and an orange every day? How many go to school without breakfast?

For a state that prides itself on its values, its compassion, and its glorification of the family, we can do better. We certainly owe it to our children to try.

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