Former cafeteria worker starts program to end school lunch shaming

U.S. & World

(CNN) – One school worker in Ohio was shaken when she saw kids given cheese sandwiches instead of hot plate because they couldn’t afford lunch.

So she stepped up and did something about it.

Jan Williams started in food service as a line worker.

She says the policy where she worked said if kids couldn’t pay, workers had to take their lunches away.

“I couldn’t do that, so a lot of times I would just reach into my own pocket, I would pay for their lunch. Most of the other employees that I worked with would do the same.”

Now as food service director for Louisville City Schools, Williams wanted to find a solution.

That led to the idea of the “Full Belly Account.”

“I wanted to create something that I didn’t have to ask them to do that, I didn’t want to have to ask them to do it and they didn’t want to do it either,” she said.

Before, when kids would come through the lunch line, they’d bring their tray to the front and type in their account number on a keypad. If they didn’t have enough money in their account, they’d be given an alternate lunch. But now with the Full Belly program, they’re given the same lunch as everyone else.

“I have a problem with alternate lunches because, I mean, that just kind of screams ‘I don’t have any money.’ Everybody sees they’ve got a cheese sandwich, so that can be embarrassing.”

When the district posted on Facebook about this program and let people know they could donate, some people responded with stories about kids being embarrassed.

Williams says that’s why they’re doing this, so that doesn’t happen to any other child.

“If the parents, a couple days later, put money in, we can always charge it right back to that parents’ account so that we’re really only using it for those that are really in need. But it’s a stopgap to prevent anybody from not getting a lunch,” she said.

At Louisville Elementary, which serves K-5 students, workers are no longer giving alternate lunches.

“My ladies can just give them their lunch, they can move on with their day, they don’t even have to be told that we’ve used it.”

They’re working to do that for middle and high schoolers too.

As the “Full Belly Account” continues to receive donations from the community.

Assistant Principal Matthew Stanley says this takes the burden off the kids.

“I can’t imagine being in that position, wondering if you have enough money in your account, and then getting to the end and just having those questions,” he said. “Kids can’t learn at their best unless they’re well-fed and hydrated and rested.”

And adults at the school can address the issue with parents.

“It’s all done behind the scenes and the kids don’t even realize it’s happening. They’re just getting a lunch, so that they can fill their bellies so that they can learn for the day,” he said, letting the kids focus on what’s important.

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