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No Free Lunch: Schools Get Tough on Deadbeats

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Associated Press: A cold cheese sandwich, fruit and a milk carton might not seem like much of a meal -- but that's what's on the menu for students in New Mexico's largest school district without their lunch money.

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Faced with mounting unpaid lunch charges in the economic downturn, Albuquerque Public Schools last month instituted a "cheese sandwich policy," serving the alternative meals to children whose parents fail to pick up their lunch tab.

Such policies have become a necessity for schools seeking to keep budgets in the black while ensuring children don't go hungry. School districts including those in Chula Vista, Calif., Hillsborough County, Fla., and Lynnwood, Wash., have also taken to serving cheese sandwiches to lunch debtors.

Critics argue the cold meals are a form of punishment for children whose parents can't afford to pay.

"We've heard stories from moms coming in saying their child was pulled out of the lunch line and given a cheese sandwich," said Nancy Pope, director of the New Mexico Collaborative to End Hunger. "One woman said her daughter never wants to go back to school."

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23 comments so far | Post a comment now
chrissy February 25, 2009, 3:56 PM

Yes, I feel sorry for the kids but the real solution is for the parents to either send money in to pay for their kids lunch or to pack a lunch for their kids. The school is there to educate our children not to provide them with food. I grew up poor and my mom always packed my lunch because it was cheaper than buying lunch for the 5 of us. If the parents need assistance they can get reduced or free lunch thru the school so it make no sense to not do the responsible thing and take care of your kids and not send them to school without food or money.

Krystine February 25, 2009, 4:04 PM

Guess what? Thats what happens. I’m thinking good for the schools! Lets teach kids some responsibility. My own son is in 2nd grade, I admit I get behind sometimes loading his lunch card, but I always try to pay a month in advance. If he had to eat cheese sandwiches because I forgot to send him to school with a check, he’d be the first one to let me know. My mom is a lunch lady, you wouldn’t believe how often kids come in for lunch with no money. It’s not about the parents not being able to afford to pay for their kids lunch, there are free and reduced programs for them, (and don’t get me started on THAT, I can barely afford to pay my rent and there are “welfare” moms out there dropping their kids off in their brand new Cadillacs flashing their huge diamond necklaces, but that’s another story). It’s about the parents forgetting to send lunch money to school. Over and over and over. And why should the school provide a lunch that the parents haven’t paid for? My mom has so many kids who “charge” their lunch every single day, the parents don’t get around to paying, and when do you get to say enough is enough? Good for the schools!!

New Mexican February 25, 2009, 4:11 PM

I know that the kids are hurt by whats going on. Getting only a cheese sandwich everyday is not the best feeling and yes, there is a chance that these kids are being made fun of. But it just so happens that the parents are starting to pay for their kids lunches. It’s working.

Wendi February 25, 2009, 4:40 PM

Good for the schools. I wake up every single morning and fix my kids and husband lunches, it is cheeper for me and I think healthier for them. Guess what, most days they get a cold sandwich and are perfectly happy with that. Yes it includes meat, but still cold. The kids that are going through this are fine. If they don’t like it then they will eventually bug their parents about it. I know my kids would not tolerate it. They would tell me the first time it happens.

mel February 25, 2009, 7:23 PM

If a child at in son’s school district owes more than $10 in lunch charges, they have to eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich every day until the charge is caught up. One day I arrived at lunch time to eat with my child, and witnessed my son crying because he couldn’t get chicken nuggets. He had lost his note and the lunch room attendants had allowed him to buy snacks when he had money on his lunch account. I was unaware that he was behind. I proceeded to pay the bill and inform the lunch room attendant how peeved I was. It is so sad that children are being punished in this way. I was very angry that my son was crying and nobody was reassuring him. They informed him that his mommy hadn’t paid his account. He owed $10.23. Another point that I want to make is that some parents are relieved that their children are at least getting a nutritious meal at school during these hard times. I believe that punishing kids in this way is wrong!!! Shame on you schools.

CanCan  February 26, 2009, 3:12 AM

I don’t see this as traumatic; I am an adult and I eat cold cheese sandwiches some times. There is a free lunch program that you must submit paperwork properly in order to be considered.
Other wise, if you don’t pay for your kid’s lunch, how can you expect them to eat? When I was in school we just paid by check or cash, there wasn’t a debit system back then.

(Another)Chrissy February 26, 2009, 3:27 AM

I agree with the first chrissy. As for Mel - the kids aren’t being punished, they’re still being feed. They’re not being denied food. And that “cold lunch” actually sounds pretty healthy.
My parents sent us to school with our own lunches most times. So did plenty of my friends.
In some schools the kids thought it was cooler to bring your own “cold” lunches.

Michelle Sullivan February 26, 2009, 7:42 AM

I am a lunchlady and this is such a sore spot with me. I think all kids should eat the same lunch everyday no matter WHAT! I see first hand what gos on and believe me its not what you think. IT IS FOOD you do not punish a child with FOOD. What about the kids that are on free lunch and tyou know darn good and well that there parent lied on the free lunch app do we punish them, no. So y punish the others. Dont get me started you have no idea what we see.

Mogget February 26, 2009, 10:00 AM

I agree with Michelle Sullivan. You should never punish a child with food—especially if it is something they have no control over.

There has to be a better way to ensure the bill gets paid than making kids eat the “delinquent kids” lunch. I would be furious if this happened to my children.

BabyC February 26, 2009, 11:55 AM

Bottom line, don’t SINGLE OUT THESE KIDS. The meal itself is ok, better than having the kids go without. They should consider alternating. When/if pb& j is safe again, that is another inexpensive option.

The school needs to talk to the parents. If they want to talk to the kid, DO IT IN PRIVATE, NOT IN FRONT OF OTHER KIDS.

It isn’t always ‘deadbeat’ or ‘lazy’ parents. Did it ever occur to anyone that circumstances can change a household quickly - a parent or sibling with a major illness, rx sucking up all the family’s money. And under those circumstances you still can’t qualify for free lunch based on income.

OMG57 February 26, 2009, 12:14 PM

I agree with the lunch lady. After all, it there’s a big tub of salad greens - aren’t there usually leftovers? Is it going to cost extra to let the kids get a bowl full? If there’s a big tub of chili - how much extra does it cost to give out a few free bowls (they got to be pretty small bowls in elementary school). Also, for BabyC, a lot of parents are getting hit with financial problems, they probably paid all along till they got hit with a layoff or something. Even if those parents apply for free lunch, it doesn’t happen overnight.

Jeannine February 27, 2009, 11:34 AM

We are raising a society of “entitlement”. I am a single mother as of this last year. I was unexpectedly left penniless due to a hidden addiction of my then husband. I had to humble myself and go to the school for help. Thank God these services are available! Thankfully I am back to work, as a public school teacher in fact. I think we need to teach our children gratitude in the midst of hard times, not that we are “owed” everything that others have. I am thankful for the school lunch programs and so are my children. How are children going to grow up as responsible adults if we are not modeling responsibility to them???


Heather B April 16, 2009, 1:31 PM

I forgot once or twice and my kids got the cheese sandwich, didnt think it was worth making it a national issue, must be a slow new day, that and some people looking for their 15 minutes. Embaressing and humiliated???geesh, these people are babies.

JB April 17, 2009, 4:26 PM

It’s amaYzing how often the EgnorEnt peEple above forget to speEl correctly. As for someone rolling up to school in a Cadillac and diamonds…please. Unbelievable. Everyone that spoke with an absolute and authoritative tone reinforcing this program sound morally perfect from their tone. I’d love to go over their daily finances with a fine-toothed comb and see how often they lie and cheat, then expose them to be the cheats that they are. Is compassion and dignity completely dead in this country?

JB April 17, 2009, 4:32 PM

It’s amaYzing how often the EgnorEnt peEple above forget to speEl correctly. As for someone rolling up to school in a Cadillac and diamonds…please. Unbelievable. Everyone that spoke with an absolute and authoritative tone reinforcing this program sound morally perfect from their tone. I’d love to go over their daily finances with a fine-toothed comb and see how often they lie and cheat, then expose them to be the cheats that they are. Are compassion and dignity completely dead in this country?

marie80 April 18, 2009, 4:36 PM

I am a lunch lady also, and the last lunch lady was right, the stuff I see in that lunch room mortifies me. The problem is not that they are given a cheese sandwich although at the school in Texas where I work that is all they are given and milk, it is that they are yelled at in front of the other children for their parents faults. Yes they could go home and bug their parents for the money, but geuss what alot of parents unfortunately do not care enough what or even if their children are even eating belive me I have met and spoken to quite a few parents, some parents don’t due without to ensure their children have lunch money and it is certainly not the childs fault, lets take care of the children and find a way to make the parents have to face the consequences for not paying.

Michelle September 2, 2009, 4:43 PM

Our school has a no charge policy regardless of age or grade. Our school is K-12. I can understand maybe doing something to the older kids who may spend their lunch money on other things but these kids in the lower grades have no control over if their parents sent or have the money to send to pay for their lunch. At the school my kids attend if you don’t have money to pay and you have already gone through the lunch line they will come and take your plate and give you a carton of juice and a roll. I try to make sure my kids have money in their account even though they take their lunch. With all the budget cuts going on in the schools these days a cold cheese sandwich and a carton of milk is just about all everybody is getting.

R October 9, 2009, 5:16 AM

What kind of ingnorant people think that it is correct for the school NOT to give a child food? I am shocked! I don’t beleive that you could be parents. I beleive that every child should be given school lunch. And as to the women who thinks that her bagged lunch is healthier… Do your homework, you are wrong.

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