For the first time in the 63-year history of our nation's School Lunch Program, front-line food service workers are on Capitol Hill last week to petition their government to strengthen the program that serves food to more than 30 million children every day.
"A lot of these kids are not getting breakfast in the morning and coming to school hungry," says Tracey Jones, an employee of Aramark at Berger Vandenberg Elementary in Dolton, Illinois. "I'm looking at the child's face and thinking 'I can't feed you.' But how can I not help a hungry child?"
Jones is one of the more than 420,000 workers employed in school cafeterias throughout the country. Paid as low as $6.55 an hour with no benefits, these workers are not far removed from the increasingly hungry students they serve. Poor working conditions throughout the industry are undermining the School Lunch program's mission to fight poverty and hunger.Â
On Capitol Hill the 80 food service workers, members of Service Workers United, are calling for stronger USDA Child Nutrition Programs that will:
Improve food safety, nutrition, health and wellness, and customer service by raising workplace standards and providing living wages, benefits, paid sick leave, and training for all school food service workers.
Increase federal reimbursement rates for meals to enable schools to cover the rising costs of meeting dietary guidelines and to purchase fresh, healthy foods.
Reach more struggling families by relaxing eligibility requirements, streamlining application processes, and allowing for regional variations in cost of living in determining eligibility.
The USDA's Child Nutrition Programs include the National School Lunch Program, School Breakfast Program, Child and Adult Care Food Program, and the Summer Food Service Program.
During the current economic crisis, more and more families are relying on school food programs for basic nutrition. As USA Today reported on June 10, "Nearly 20 million children now receive free or reduced-price lunches in the nation's schools, an all-time high, federal data show, and many school districts are struggling to cover their share of the meals' rising costs."