By Daria Dillard, president, Samuel Tucker Elementary School PTA (File photo)
Imagine my surprise upon discovering how many students have gone without a hot lunch on a consistent basis at Samuel Tucker Elementary School. Al Luna, vice president of the school’s PTA, explained that if students do not have the money in their account to pay for a hot lunch, then it is replaced by a cheese sandwich.
If a student had a negative balance — even a few cents — they also receive a cheese sandwich and milk. Then, they must refill their account before eating a hot lunch again. This was happening every day to too many of our students.
Alexandria City Public Schools policy is that all students must receive lunch. What I failed to realize was that the quality of the lunch a child receives is just as important. Although students with negative balances received supplemental lunches, their parents still had to bring the accounts up to date before hot meals are restored. Thus, the same $5 that would have bought a week’s worth of lunch may now only last a day, if at all.
Once Luna informed the PTA board and we became aware of the situation, we decided to take action and worked diligently with Principal Rene Paschal to reach a solution. PTA board members met with Paschal and cafeteria staff to coordinate the creation of a PTA emergency lunch fund (funded through donations) that will pay for any student’s lunch when they are unable to afford it. The money also prevents the student’s account from going negative.
School administrators will monitor the fund’s use and take appropriate action to notify parents if necessary and/or to make referrals for families in need. Instead of a simple notice being relayed from cafeteria staff to parents through students, we created an effective notice system that keeps the child from getting stuck in the middle.
The estimated cost to sustain the program is $900 per school year. So far, we have received several donations from staff and parents. Recently, several Tucker students organized a bake sale during the Cameron Station yard sale, with proceeds going toward the fund. Several other families also have pledged donations, and all help is greatly appreciated.
We write to share this program with the community, not only to ask for donations, but to encourage you to ask your schools what is being done for the students that just don’t have enough money to eat. The students could be taking the cold cheese sandwich and milk to their lunch table and sitting amongst the other students, which can be embarrassing.
Why should any child suffer that humiliation if it can be avoided?