Earlier this month, Warwick Public Schools in Rhode Island announced that it would ban any student from the school’s hot meal service if they had not paid any outstanding balance owed. Their only choice at lunchtime: a sandwich made from “sun butter and jelly,” (sun butter?). The unpaid amounted to $77,000.
After word quickly spread on Facebook, outrage built against the school district causing them to reverse their decision.
“In a Facebook post,” National Public Radio (May 10), reported, “Karen Bachus, chairwoman of the Warwick School Committee, said that ‘after careful review and consideration’ the committee recommended ‘allow[ing] the students their choice of lunch regardless of their account status.’ ”
Bachus also pointed out that 72 percent of the debt was from students not enrolled in the National School Lunch Program. At her time of her announcement, she added, approximately $14,000 of the debt had been paid.
Nonetheless, on May 9, Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani yogurt stepped in and declared, in a tweet:
“as a parent, news of #WarwickPublicSchools breaks my heart. every child should have access to natural, nutritious & delicious food, so @Chobani is doing our small part to help pay this debt business must do its part.. our responsibility as members of [the] community. who will join us?”
“No child should be facing anything like this,” Ulukaya said in a video message that accompanied the tweet.
“We need to step up. We’ll take care of this school’s bill,” the yogurt maker said, “but we need everyone around the country to eliminate this.”
“The controversy has fueled a national conversation about mounting school lunch debts and the practice of ‘lunch shaming’ in public schools,” NPR adds.
“The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the federal school meal program, mandated that all districts put their policies in writing and communicate them to staff, parents and the community at the start of the school year. The agency stopped short of barring some of the most embarrassing practices but did encourage districts to find alternative solutions for working with adults in addressing delinquent accounts.”
Chobani donated $47,650 to pay off the current debt and others have supported the school district program with a Go Fund Me account (Warwick Public School Lunch Balances), adding an additional $57,000 date.
Civic virtue asks each of us to “step up” in our communities by donating money, time or both to organizations in need.
As responsible citizens, we should do no less.