The Discontinuation of Universal Free School Meals & The Impact It Has on Children in WNC
For many children, there is an excitement in the air as they return to school for the new school year. Students are eager to reunite with friends they have not seen for months, while others are excited to learn what it is like to be in the next grade level. Many children, however, are excited to return to school because it means that they will again have regular access to food.
Consistent access to food is essential for a child’s development, both physically and mentally. According to Feeding America, children facing hunger are more likely to repeat a grade in elementary school, experience development impairments in areas like language and motor skills, and have more social and behavioral problems. Simply knowing that there is food to eat relieves stress and anxiety, while allowing children to focus on learning, interacting with others, and many other important aspects of their life.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, families and students have adjusted to the universal free school lunch model that was implemented. Regardless of income or economic class, every student attending school had access to free breakfast and lunch. The impact of these free school meal programs was tremendous in ensuring children had access to food, alleviating the financial burden upon families and destigmatizing participating in free or reduced meal programs. This year, however, all of this will change since the universal free school meals initiative has been discontinued.
Families, schools and children now face an uphill battle this school year. With the increased costs in food and the discontinuation of universal free school meals, many families now have to dedicate a considerable amount of their budget to their children’s school meals… money that families were able to save and use for other essential costs the previous couple of years.
In an effort to alleviate some of the financial burden and ensure that children throughout WNC have access to food, MANNA distributes MANNA Packs, supplemental bags of food, to schools for students to bring home each weekend. Thanks to our network of school administrators, teachers, drivers, volunteers and financial supporters, MANNA Packs are able to provide critical food support to children throughout WNC. Now, more than ever, your continued support will help families throughout our region have access to food.
MANNA FoodBank is a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to highlighting the issues affecting the people we serve in Western North Carolina.