Unique school lunch program should not end

The USDA is trying to end a popular and innovative school lunch program, despite widespread support.

As you take a bite of your Einstein Bros. Bagels, or your Burger King french toast sticks, do you ever think about the people who can’t afford to eat within your vicinity? Not the man or family you grew up hearing about at the dinner table when you wasted food, the one who was living in Africa with no food to eat. But the youth of this city whose families are not living in the streets, but still are struggling to put a decent meal on the table.

For the last 17 years, the city of Philadelphia had proudly run a universal breakfast-and-lunch program offered in 200 of its 280 public schools to students without the hassle of filling out paperwork and the questioning of who was actually consuming the food. Today, however, that meal program is being threatened by the U.S. Department of Agriculture who has decided to terminate the program by the year 2010 because it says there needs to be a more accurate account of whom the food is being provided for.

This program originated as a push between Temple and Philadelphia Community Legal Services after conducting a survey that showed the poorest schools throughout the city. The breakfast-and-lunch program is the only one of its kind, and Philadelphia is not ready to let the USDA take it away from them.

No child should ever have to worry that they won’t have anything to eat on any given day, especially when they are enrolled in an educational institution that is providing them with knowledge for the larger part of the youth’s active day.

In a press release issued by the U.S. Congress, an event was held yesterday to discuss possible methods to restore the school lunch program by the likes of Sens. Robert Casey and Arlen Specter, Mayor Michael Nutter, and U.S. Reps. Chakah Fattah, Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz and Robert Brady.

“The USDA’s decision to end the Philadelphia program that provides free nutritious meals to all students is short-sighted and undoes years of progress to end childhood hunger,” Casey said.

It carries a great deal of significance that Temple was a part of the team that persuaded the USDA’s initial approval of the universal breakfast-and-lunch program. It would be more significant to know they were currently involved in making sure the program is not completely terminated after all of these years. The list of politicians stirred about this sudden decision is impressively lengthy.

“Ending the Universal Feeding Program would reverse the good work done to fight hunger and have a devastating impact on the many children in Philadelphia who rely on the school district as a source of nutrition,” Specter said.

Nutter saw the educational crisis in this messy decision.

“If students are hungry, they are not ready to learn and now is not the time for the federal government in Washington to cut back on support for nutrition, education and children,” Nutter said.

Mayors and senators can speak their piece about this problem, along with the U.S. representatives and educational advocates that were present at yesterday’s event, but there must be some way that the community can be more directly involved. The public schools are, after all, centers for the Philadelphia community’s youth. Why not have a larger movement about this issue?

It is absolutely appalling to think of a school breakfast and lunch program being terminated based on paperwork. Changed, maybe less ridiculous, as a spokesperson for the School District of Philadelphia speculates, but completely terminated would be completely unacceptable.

Tara Moore can be reached at tara.moore@temple.edu.

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