Thirteen million children (1 in 6) may experience food insecurity in 2021. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, many students have faced hard times, battling depression, loneliness and so much more.
One of the problems that has not been addressed on a bigger platform is student hunger. Many Americans have lost jobs during the pandemic. Many have faced challenges associated with the virus. With breadwinners becoming sick and not being able to provide for their family in times of need, some families go hungry. Students who miss meals struggle during class because they aren’t able to pay attention or stay focused. The constant thought of where their next meal will come from is stuck in their head. Although California students had the opportunity to take advantage of reduced price lunches, not all could do so.
This year, Half Moon Bay High School, along with most schools in California, offered free lunches to all students. I was able to see first hand the benefits of this program. Previously, high schools offered discounted lunch if your family fell in certain income levels. Most students were embarrassed or uncomfortable getting these discounts, believing people would judge them and their family’s financial struggles. Now, many students take advantage of this new program. When free lunch for everyone is normalized, there’s no more shame in using these resources, ensuring that students will be fed no matter their families’ income.
Student hunger was not just at our local level, but nationwide. Many students across the country struggle to feed themselves. Students who work to pay for their own food face more problems. The average minimum wage across California is $14 an hour. The average minor does not work full-time, in order to leave time for homework, sports and more. A meal costs about $5 in a public high school in California – that can take a good chunk out of a starving student’s pocket. Even if you have a reduced lunch, the cost still added up. Now, with free lunch, students enjoy their meal and are able to focus in class.
While interviewing some students on the new lunch policies, we found nothing but joy. Emma Steadman, a Senior at Half Moon Bay High School loved the idea, saying, “It makes everything equal for students without making those who maybe can’t afford lunch feel ostracized or different.” The years that students spend in high school are crucial times where you need proper nutrition to grow your mind along with your body.
The success of this program in my community is amazing. My peers are now more focused and able to perform in class with the benefits from a single meal. Seeing the joy and happy faces that come with a meal makes me want to see these programs implemented in schools nationwide. I believe that we need free school meals for all students.