Free lunches should be brought back

Nicholas Floody, Staff Writer

Covid-19 brought many changes to the school during 2020, but one of the biggest changes was the school’s daily free lunches. A Covid-19 relief bill granted schools the ability to give students free lunches. During the 2020-2021 school year, this appeared in the form of “grab and go bags,” as there was no lunch period, and students got a bag full of food and drinks to take home. There were also special weekend bags that included multiple meals. The next year, with the return of a lunch period, the school opted to hand out free hot lunches, mainly consisting of chicken patty sandwiches, cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, and more. Every day during lunch, any students could grab a small sandwich and something to drink quickly and all for free. 

However, during the start of this current year, the funding was discontinued, and the school switched back to charging for hot lunches, drinks, and snacks. It’s the exact same food, but now with a price tag on it. When students must pay for  lunches, they are more likely to buy the cheaper snacks — like chips or a muffin–and call it a day, which is much unhealthier than the more expensive, whole lunches. With chicken sandwiches alone costing $3.50, students having to buy lunch every day will have to spend close to $80 a month. 

The school still offers free and reduced meal plans for students whose families are lower income, but even these plans have flaws in them. According to the Rhode Island Department of Education, only students who are 130 percent above the poverty line receive free lunches, which is about a $40,000 yearly income. That amount changes based on the amount of children in the family. Students whose families earn between 130-185 percent receive a reduced meal price at lunch. These meal plans do help, but with the same price brackets as before Covid without factoring in the effects of the pandemic, a lot of students are left without the opportunity to eat in school, and, for some, that could have been the best meal they get that day

The pandemic brought with it other major issues, such as a large growth in inflation, increasing the price of  food, gas, electricity, and many other items essential to families. School’s early start time also leaves less time in the morning, and for families whose parents work early, it gives students less time to prepare lunch. So that leaves students to only pack a small snack, or to just not eat at all. The income-based plan also results in bullying due to differences in income, making some students less likely to speak up during lunch. Rhode Island Community Service Food Bank CEO Andrew Schiff says, “The school service directors would have to chase down parents for the fees, and when they couldn’t, they had to deny the kid’s lunch. The only folks that end up being hurt in this whole thing are the kids.” 

School lunches are one of the most important factors in keeping students attentive and focused in school. By not giving students free lunches, it stops a lot of students from getting all the nutrients they need. North Kingstown should bring back free lunches, and feed their students.