By Ezer Pamintuan, Policy Advocate
“What does it feel like when you’re hungry?”
Several children furrowed their eyebrows in recollection as I posed them this question. These were the days before COVID-19, when I still had the opportunity to speak in person to elementary school-aged volunteers at ACCFB’s Community Engagement Center.
After a moment, a child raised her hand. “I feel grumpy and tired.”
Another chimed in – “It hurts, and I can’t concentrate.”
“I don’t want to do my homework,” a third interjected.
Our young volunteers understood concretely what hundreds of pages of policy memos and fact sheets could only outline – they could only thrive as students if their minds and bodies were nourished.
By investing in public education, California has made a commitment as a community to ensuring that children have the resources they need to grow and thrive. But for too long, this promise was not kept. In her testimony to Congress in April, Ayesha Curry pointed out that hunger affects one in four children in the Bay Area.
“Food is an essential school supply,” Curry declared. “When kids don’t get the food they need, it’s harder for them to learn or focus in class, affecting everything from test scores to graduation rates. Giving kids the best opportunity for success starts with ensuring that they have the nutrition they need to thrive.”
While schools ought to be the first line of defense against food insecurity for children, they have often reinforced inequities, seen most keenly in the cruel practice of lunch shaming as a result of unpaid school meal fees. These inequities are manifestations of the systemic racism lying at the root of hunger and poverty, with “kids from families of color [facing] hunger, poverty, and hardship at even higher levels.”
We sometimes hear that eradicating hunger is an “aspirational” or “abstract” goal. But this summer, we proved that hunger is entirely within our power to eradicate. We are celebrating a historic victory for which ACCFB and our coalition partners have been fighting for decades. With the implementation of the Universal School Meals Program, California is one of the first two states in the nation to guarantee free breakfast and lunch to all K-12 public school students.
Think for a moment about the gravity of this victory. Here we have a tangible and unmitigated win that will have an immediate impact on the lives of millions of children and their families. We have effectively eradicated hunger in California public schools, thereby demonstrating that the eradication of hunger within whole systems is possible if we have the will and community power to make it happen.
This victory has only emboldened us. Universally-free school meals in California are only the first step, and we’re taking our fight nationwide.
ACCFB and our coalition partners support the federal Universal School Meals Program Act, which would guarantee free meals to all public-school students regardless of income, eliminate school meal debt, and strengthen local economies by incentivizing local food procurement.
For the rest of August, we will be advocating vigorously with our U.S. Senators and Representatives, to ensure that this vital bill passes out of Congress and is signed into law. This work will require tenacity and perseverance, and most importantly, we will need YOU to share your messages and stories with your elected officials.
Click here to sign up to receive ACCFB’s Advocacy Action Alerts. In the coming weeks we will send you instructions for how to message or call your Senators and Representative, urging the passage of universally-free school meals nationwide.
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We have already proven that we have the power to eradicate hunger. Let’s never doubt that through community power, bold policy victories are within our grasp. But it’s going to take all of us to make this final push across the finish line. Our young ACCFB volunteers were ready and eager to get involved. Are you?