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Free lunch.

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Listen To You Tell Me Texas Friday 8/29/14

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School began for most area students this week including my daughter, who Monday had her first day as a freshman in high school. Of course, her first day reminds me of my own first days and I positively hate how old this piece is going to make me sound.

But here goes.

In September 1967 I attended my first day as a 7th grader at Stephen F. Austin Junior High School in Amarillo, Texas. That morning, during the announcements, Mr. Douglass, the principal, put out the call for students willing to work in the cafeteria in return for the price of lunch.

I signed up, figuring that I could pocket the five dollars a week my mom gave me.

A day or two later, Mr. Lively, the assistant principal, called my mother at home and asked if I might withdraw my application. As he explained, the cafeteria work program was a way for kids with financial hardship to have lunch without it being simply free.

There went my five bucks.

Interestingly, not that many kids signed up. The school was ethnically mixed but the vast majority of students – white, black and brown – nevertheless had parents who met their responsibility to see that their kids were fed.

That was 1967.

Today, the majority of students in public schools in Texas – including those here in Tyler and Longview – get their lunches for free or at a greatly reduced price. There’s no work involved. There’s apparently little requirement at all save for completing a pro forma statement saying that paying for your child’s lunch would constitute a financial burden.

In most cases, the money comes from the federal government. In most cases, school districts seem very anxious to receive that money. I don’t know this but I strongly suspect that school districts make more money selling lunches to the federal government than they do selling those same lunches to individual students.

What I do know is that school districts are at pains to remove any stigma attendant to free or reduced price lunch. And thus by the time kids reach a certain age, the “right” to a free lunch is firmly fixed in their attitudes about life.

I have no doubt that there are plenty of kids with real needs to be met. I don’t believe that any kid should be humiliated over the price of a school lunch. I certainly don’t want any kid to go hungry.

But that doesn’t keep me from asking; are upwards of nine out of ten parents really unable to afford a school lunch? Shouldn’t there be some itsy-bitsy, teeny-weeny little bit of stigma attached to not paying for the food your kid eats? Is not the need to come up with money every day to feed your own child a positive motivator? Don’t kids need to see their parents doing that?

And am I crazy, or wouldn’t that sort of ethic encourage productive behavior in a way that institutionalized, socially acceptable dependency never will?


  1. Richard Moore says:

    TANSTAAFL!
    In reality, “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”. If you want the government to do something for you, it is going to take your money to do it, or money from someone else. That makes you either a FOOL or a THIEF!

    Excellant Editorial!

  2. When I was in high school (1963) in Arlington, Tx, I was called down to the principal’s office and told that I qualified for the free lunch program. I refused to sign up. To me it just seemed wrong when I had a small mail order business (selling of all things comic books) and I was making enough to feed myself. My two younger brothers did sign up for free lunches. I didn’t because I would have felt ashamed–ashamed to be taking handouts. I know I did the right thing. I never starved and the sense of pride that came with knowing I was making my own way served me well in the years to come.

  3. Sylvia Williams says:

    I understand some of the people making comments regarding if a child should have free lunch or not have never met hardships, that are completely out of their control. If a parent loses a job, divorce, parent dies, or they’ve been displaced they need help. There are grants available for so many other things, some should be used to make sure a child doesn’t go hungry. It’s not a handout. It’s appalling to even discuss this subject, when you have big corporate executives not paying taxes or putting money in swiss bank accounts. We’re outsourcing jobs to keep from paying taxes. Who are they stealing from or are they fools?

  4. Linda E. Montrose says:

    There are no “FREE LUNCHES” because someone, somewhere is paying for it. However, this just makes kids feel more entitled to having things in life given to them. I never would have signed up for a free lunch back in my day because of the shame attached to it. Now, there is no shame attached to it. The same goes for school supplies. We are hit up from all sides to give this or that…it costs in ways we aren’t even aware of, but all this will come home to roost sooner or later. NOTHING in life is free!

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