When Emmanuel Noumossie attended Cresthaven Elementary School in White Oak, Md., snow days were not a time to jump for joy. Instead, they left him and other students who relied on the free or reduced price lunch program wondering where their next meal would come from. School is the place where low-income students can get a full serving of breakfast and lunch, since families are not able to adequately feed them.
“Any kid loves a snow day, but for students who sit at home with there stomachs eroding in a fury of hunger, snow days are just a day when no food will be available,” Noumossie, now 23, recalls. “They weren’t the end of the world, but snow days ruined my food eating pattern. I often found myself trying to go to play at friends’ houses those days just to eat.”
Last week, pounded by the unforgiving ice, winds and snow of the Nor’easter, which unleashed a fury of blizzard like conditions across the United States, thousands of schools shut down operations, with many reaching their snow day cancellation limits.
Children rely on the hot meals served from cafeteria workers to help keep their bellies full and their attention on their schoolwork.
“Some of the kids are coming to school after school being delayed. Their breakfast routine is disrupted, and they’re not getting food until lunch. It is having an impact on the classroom,” explained Meredith Allen, a teacher at the Laurens-Marathon Community School in Iowa. Roughly 60 percent of the school’s students are enrolled in the free or reduced meals program.
Now more than ever, many students rely on the school system’s breakfast and lunch programs. According to the Food Research and Action Center, on a typical school day, 19.6 million children receive free or reduced price lunches.
As snow days have accumulated, school districts that serve large numbers of low-income students recognize that closing their doors can have serious consequences and are making an effort to find solutions.
In the Milton Town district in Vermont, schools were proactive in making sure students were sent home with food.
“We knew about the snow coming earlier in the week so we gave food to students on Thursday to take home,” explained Food Service Director Steve Marinelli. “This lunch included fruit, milk, and a sandwich product. Our hope was that this would help to hold them for a few days.”
In Fort Wayne, Indiana, school has been cancelled nine times, forcing some schools to consider throwing out thousands of dollars in unused food. Luckily, however, local organizations have stepped up to take the food and help feed hungry students.
In Dayton Ohio, schools have also been directing students to area food banks, including the House of Bread.
“On a day when school is out it can certainly easily run to 25 or 30 children and their families each day that school is not in session,” House of Bread Director of Operations Charles Wourms told WKEF in Dayton. “It’s good to have them in here and that’s why we do this 365 days a year. We know there is a need for this, and there is a need everyday.”
Take Action: One in four children in America has a parent who would benefit from a higher federal minimum wage. The NEA-supported Minimum Wage Fairness Act of 2013 would raise the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour – the equivalent of an annual salary of $15,080 for a full-time worker – to $10.10 an hour. Tell Congress to raise the federal minimum wage.