Historically, Richfield has made some great improvements to the lunch program. Let me list a few:
- Once a week, the schools offer a lunch comprised of locally sourced food including fruits and veggies and protein.
- Children are offered multiple fruit and vegetable options of their choosing. They are required to take one of these or a mixture to complete their meal. Children are allowed to eat as much of the fruit and veggies as they like. Along with the fresh produce, children are offered whole grains, low-fat and non-fat milk and lean protein with every meal.
- The School Breakfast Program has been a great success. All children are offered FREE breakfast every day and the participation is climbing each month. Employees do a good job of encouraging children to take advantage of the breakfast. This is a federally supported program.
- The communication with parents/guardians regarding the children's school lunch account status is consistent and proactive through email, text, phone, mail and through the children themselves.
Unfortunately, the accrued debt has become substantial and has forced the district to enforce new family payment procedures. The procedure for students at the Middle School is verbatim from the RMS website:
"No 6-12 student will be denied a meal; however, when the student owes more than $15.00 they will receive an alternative meal choice (a reimbursable full meal that will be available to all students regardless of account status) until payment is received or the legal guardian contacts the school nutrition department to discuss the situation. Nutritional Services will work with outreach programs for non-English speaking households. " (1)
Let me put this into perspective. I worked at the middle school. The alternative meal is a bagged lunch containing carrots, an apple, a cold sandwich and a milk. When the student approaches the lunch line and enters their pin, we are required to hand that child the alternative meal if they are more than $15.00 negative. Now, I realize this is still meeting all the state requirements and I also understand the position the district is in, BUT, when I have to hand that child a bag lunch in front of all of their peers, they are mortified. Its like the walk of shame for a child at this age. And while we and the district try to eliminate this attention, it’s still been a challenge.
As the weeks have passed, many of those debts have been resolved and the children have been able to take a regular hot lunch. Some of those children’s parents/guardians who haven’t contacted the school still have negative balances and their options are to a) accept the alternative meal, b) not eat lunch, or c) bring a lunch from home. "This data points toward one of the major issues with school lunches in America. If 19.2 million students are receiving free lunches due to their socioeconomic status, school lunch could be their only opportunity for a nutritious meal each day." (2) These children need to eat lunch!
My name is Kristin Hendrickson. I am a local Realtor and I also worked part time in nutritional services at the middle school. This fundraiser is private, not sanctioned by the district. It was started by myself and another employee at the school. We simply want to help these children who we see every day. There are many children who still have negative accounts and they are not eating the alternative meal. Why? They are probably embarrassed. Everyday I see them attempt to sneak into the regular lunch line. Sometimes they walk along the lunch line asking their peers to grab things for them. They are even approaching their peers in the lunch room and eating some of their food. It is SAD. Most of these children are in the low income bracket and once their debt is paid, or parents/guardians contact the school to make arrangements, they will no longer be restricted to the alternative meal. Now, we certainly don't blame the district for this at all. The outreach and preventative measures made by the district have been extensive. And we certainly aren't playing any guessing game as to why the guardians haven't settled those debts or contacted the school. It's not our job to judge. Our job is to provide these children with a nutritious daily lunch so they can power their bodies and minds and learn. Watching children beg their friends is just not something we want to watch anymore.
All donations received will be donated to the district to help pay for students who are only able to receive the alternative meal because of the debt in their lunch account. We will ask them to prioritize those students who are otherwise qualifying for free and reduced lunches or have the greatest financial needs or extenuating circumstances at Richfield Middle School. Anything further will be allocated by the district to students within the entire district and who also have great need. All donations to the district will be documented and shared with donors.
Thank you very much for reading our plea, and thank you for any donation you can make that will directly help these children have a healthy hot lunch during their school day.
For facts on school meal trends: https://schoolnutrition.org/AboutSchoolMeals/SchoolMealTrendsStats/
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