The Hot Face of Hunger

By United Way of King County Posted on October 3, 2014 In Breaking the Cycle of Poverty

Free and reduced lunch in school, does it have to be humiliating in this day and age? We think NOT. Hear from our own Communications Director, Michael Beneke.


When I was a kid growing up in Colorado, there was a period when I was eligible for a free lunch at school. My parents wanted me to have it, and that was fine by me — until it wasn’t. Because, you see, the kids eating free had to put on a hairnet and plastic gloves and serve the other kids first. The other students thought the get-up was hilarious, and delighted in mocking me and the other “poor kids.”

I pretty quickly told my mom I didn’t want a free lunch anymore, and she somehow scraped together the money to pay. When my family moved to a new neighborhood shortly after, it was a relief. I could start fresh on my reputation.

All of this came to mind a few days ago when StoryCorps on NPR ran a piece about a group of schoolkids in Houston who every day suffer the same kind of hot-faced humiliation about lunch.

Still? Why do we do this to kids? Is it some sort of judgment of their parents? An early lesson in the workings of hierarchy?

I’ll never understand how we can treat kids unequally. Kids are pure potential. We have no right to do anything that dims that — by making a kid feel bad, or not letting them have basic nutrition without the ugly spice of judgment. I appreciate so much that United Way is working on programs like Breakfast after the Bell that let all kids — regardless of their family’s standing or finances— start the day nourished and stigma-free.


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