An End to Lunch Shaming in Providence

It’s back to school time, which means that our social media newsfeeds are full of back-to-school stories. The cute first day photos, the recipes for healthy meal prep ideas, the shopping lists, that video everyone shared to me with the mom in Target offering to add a microwave to her kid’s back to school list. This year there was something else floating around: articles about lunch shaming. Yes, another shaming. What is lunch shaming? It’s when a child doesn’t have money to pay for the day’s hot lunch, so they are given an alternate, like a cheese or sunbutter sandwich, after purchasing several lunches on credit. Maybe that doesn’t sound so bad to you, after all if you’re hungry you’ll eat, right? But kids notice differences, and the shy kid who feels insecure about anything and everything knows that well. Now that kid has to worry about having the special lunch because they either didn’t bring or have money, or mom and dad didn’t refill their account — sometimes because they are financially unable to.

As a taxpayer, I get it. Lunch is money. And sure, people can say it’s the parent’s job. But as a wise woman once said, it takes a village. One of the first things you learn in school to become a teacher is that kids can’t learn if their basic needs aren’t being met. However, so many of our kids would rather go to class hungry than risk embarrassment.  

I took a look at the Providence Public School District policy. After all, it is the largest district in the state, serving approximately 24,000 students. Providence is the district most look to in the state when talking about education, and more and more, Providence is the district looked to nationally when it comes to best practices in the classroom. The Providence district recently announced that this year, it’s providing free breakfast and lunch for every elementary student. In all 22 schools. They’re doing this through the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP), which reimburses low-income school districts based on overall district eligibility. Providence’s superintendent, Christopher N. Maher, clearly understands the importance of students’ need for a full stomach. “Good nutrition impacts every facet of the lives of growing children, and research shows that children who eat healthy lunches are more likely to achieve in school. Providing free, nutritious lunches for our elementary school students makes good sense.” However, Providence did not stop there. The Providence Public School District will not allow any child to go hungry, as no student is denied lunch in the middle and high schools either, regardless of their eligibility for free lunch. No lunch shaming here!  

Why is it then that there are so many schools that will not do the same? Although you can point to the CEP as to how a district like Providence can afford to feed students in 22 schools, that doesn’t explain how they will serve a middle or high school student a lunch under any circumstance. And if the largest district in the state can do this, why can’t all of our districts?

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