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Fighting for free school lunches

Free School Meals
Posted at 10:26 AM, Aug 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-02 12:26:05-04

More states are taking action to ensure children don't go hungry at school.

Vermont’s governor recently signed a law, making school meals free to all students. In November, Colorado voters will vote on whether all children should be provided meals regardless of income. 

GlendaRika Garcia, the daughter of an immigrant and a single mother to four children, lives in Denver. As a child, Garcia sometimes relied on bonus food from the lunch lady because she didn’t have enough money to pay for school lunch. These days, she tries to avoid the same fate for her four sons, and the millions of American children just like them. 

“I make less than $48,000 a year, and I have four kids. So that really puts me in this bracket that’s, like, I’m struggling,” Garcia said.

 In 2018, the USDA found nearly 3 million American households were unable to provide consistent, adequate, nutritious food for their children. That’s before the pandemic.

Ashley Wheeland, director of public policy for Hunger Free Colorado, led the program to fund school nutrition programs with federal money throughout the last school year. Studies showed that funding substantially reduced child hunger nationwide. 

“It has meant 20% to 40% more children participating in school meals, you know, getting in line, not being afraid or ashamed, but getting in line like every kid and grabbing their food,” Wheeland said.

 The federal program was temporary. At the end of the last school year, Congress approved scaled-down funding for the coming school year. 

“There should be no reason that any student should walk into a school and not have access to food because their family's finances are not such as that next door neighbors,” Garcia said.

 Garcia now makes outreach calls for Hunger Free Colorado to share her story with others and get the word out regarding vouchers. She and Wheeland are asking Coloradans to vote yes on a ballot initiative that would fund every district to provide free meals for all students. 

“We’ve seen a lot of stalling at the federal level. And it just became too late. We had to act,” Wheeland said.

 Polling suggests the initiative will pass.