How You Can Help Tackle Student Hunger

December 6th 2016

Kyle Jaeger

About 45 percent of American public school students qualify for free and reduced lunch programs, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. But for students whose parents haven't paid their cafeteria balance, lunch time can mean an empty tray or an inadequate substitute for a meal.

school lunch

Each school district approaches unpaid lunch balances differently, but it's a problem nationwide — and in a tweet Tuesday, writer Ashley Ford proposed a temporary solution: calling schools and paying for students' overdue balances.

The tweet thread already appears to have inspired action.

Others who called their local schools and found that no students had overdue balances discovered other ways to support public schools, like donating uniforms and volunteering.

Ford said on Twitter that she herself didn't come up with the idea to donate money for unpaid lunch balances. In October, Iowa resident Jerry Fenton contributed $700 to his local elementary school for this exact purpose, CBS News reported.

"I myself positively affected 89 students today," Fenton wrote in a Facebook post at the time. "I gave them extra money in the account so that every kid at Grimes Elementary school won't be hungry the rest of this school year. Now it's your turn to do something good for your fellow man."

The donation campaign isn't a solution to the problem of student hunger, but the gesture has raised attention to the issue. In 2015, 75 percent of K-12 educators in an online survey reported that their students were coming to school hungry, and 59 percent said that "a lot or most" of their students relied on school meals as their primary nutrition.

"Similar findings on child hunger have led some urban school districts with large numbers of low-income families — including Boston, Chicago, and Baltimore — to bypass the bookkeeping and provide free breakfast and lunch to all students regardless of financial means," The Atlantic reported. "The programs, which are subsidized by the USDA’s Community Eligibility Program, replace cafeteria checkout lines and the angst of overdrawn lunch accounts with universal free breakfast and lunch."

Learn about how other countries approach school lunches in this video.