Texas lawmaker starts crowdfunding campaign for school lunches

School lunch (Nexstar Photo)
School lunch (Nexstar Photo)

AUSTIN (NEXSTAR) — A state lawmaker is looking for donations to pay off debt Texas students rack up in school cafeterias.

Partnered with Feeding Texas, Rep. Helen Giddings, D-DeSoto, launched a statewide crowd funding campaign Tuesday, in an effort to prevent what she calls “lunch shaming.”

At some Texas schools, students with lunch debt or empty accounts are denied a hot lunch and given a cheese sandwich instead.

“The cruelty and lack of compassion for children who suffer the humiliation, the labeling and not to mention the hunger pains of so-called lunch shaming, it is inconceivable,” Giddings said.

The crowd funding website allows the public to make contributions that help erase the debt schools acquire to feed students who don’t have money to buy lunch. The donations give schools stop-gap funding to cover the cost of lunch they can’t collect from parents.

Austin ISD started its own crowd funding site for student lunches in March, and in about 12 weeks the district received more than $20,000 in donations. That’s enough to wipe all the district’s student lunch debts clean two-and-a-half-times.

“After we clear those balances, if the students don’t have funds in their accounts they do accrue a negative balance again,” said Anneliese Tanner, AISD’s director of nutrition and food services.
The district’s fundraiser ends next week and is still shy of its $25,000 goal.

“Food is part of education, just the way that transportation and textbooks are,” Tanner said, “And we want to make sure that we’re able to do that for all students every day.”

The announcement for the statewide donation page comes after Giddings’ bill to stop lunch shaming was shot down three times in the Texas House. House Bill 2159 was one of the more than 120 local and uncontested bills killed by the members Texas Freedom Caucus.

The small group of conservative state representatives blocked the entire local and contest calendar after their own proposals died in the House. “I won’t dignifying those actions with a response,” Giddings said. Instead, she referenced a quote from writer and civil rights activist, Maya Angelou — “When someone shows you who they are believe them; the first time.”

The House did pass an amendment in a 133-0 vote that gives schools the option to serve hot lunches to kids with empty accounts, Giddings’ bill would have required it.

“They want to do this but if it’s not in black and white their lawyers will tell them they can’t and that’s why they throw so much away,” State Rep. Diego Bernal said. The San Antonio Democrat added the amendment on to Senate Bill 725, which would let school districts offer uneaten or donated food to nonprofits to give to hungry students.

“People just don’t understand the insanity of taking a meal and putting it in the trash, the cost has already been incurred,” said Giddings. Austin ISD does not take meals or trays away from students with empty accounts, Tanner said, students are notified before they get into the lunch line.

The district gives students with empty accounts a three-meal grace period, then provides students with “courtesy lunches.” That’s a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for elementary school students and includes a vegetable side and a milk.

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