God is love, and we should love one another and be kind,” Koltiska said. “There’s enough wealth in this world that no child should go hungry, especially in school. To me this is just wrong.”
— Stacy Koltiska, school lunch worker who resigned over a policy
I read with interest a Washington Post story about a school lunch worker who resigned over a controversial policy in Pennsylvania.
Here’s an excerpt, from Post reporter T. Rees Shapiro’s story, getting at the gist of the story:
Stacy Koltiska said that she will never forget the look in the little boy’s eyes. As an elementary school lunchroom staffer, her job was to work the register for the children when they paid for their meals.
But the boy had a negative balance on his account, and a new policy in the Canon-McMillan, Pa. school district this year prevents cafeteria workers from serving a hot meal to students who owe more than $25. Koltiska said she had to follow the policy and was ordered to refuse the boy his hot meal because he couldn’t pay for it.
“As a Christian, I have an issue with this,” said Koltiska, of Canonsburg, Pa. “It’s sinful and shameful is what it is.”
Rather than continue to enforce the policy at Wylandville Elementary School in Eighty Four, Pa., Koltiska tendered her resignation last week. Koltiska said in an interview that she had worked for the school district for two years. She said she was stunned by the new policy, which began this fall.
Students who were refused the hot meal instead got a sandwich made of two slices of wheat bread and a single, cold slice of “government cheese,” Koltiska said. The contents of the hot lunch, such as chicken nuggets or corn dog bites, were thrown away, Koltiska said, even though parents would still be charged the full regular price of $2.05 for the meal. Koltiska said that she resigned out of a moral obligation.
“God is love, and we should love one another and be kind,” Koltiska said. “There’s enough wealth in this world that no child should go hungry, especially in school. To me this is just wrong.”
The school board contends it had to impose a new policy to cut financial losses, which is understandable. Read the whole thing here to get their perspective.*
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One thing that jumped out at me from the story was this:
Koltiska said that she knows what it’s like to feel hunger. She grew up north of Pittsburgh and survived on food stamps and free lunches at school. “I know the shame I felt, and it was of no fault of my own,” Koltiska said, noting that when she was young, she got a job reading out bingo numbers and saved up enough money for a pair of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans.
“I thought if I could dress like the other kids then they wouldn’t know I was poor,” she said.
This goes right to the heart of what my book–The View from Down in Poordom: Reflections on Scriptures Addressing Poverty–is about.*
The book’s Introduction includes stories my mother–the school cafeteria supervisor in my hometown for more than 30 years–told me about the struggles and indignities of being poor and hungry when her father abandoned her, her two siblings and their mother.
I heard my mother say the very thing that the school lunch worker Koltiska said in the Post, that “there’s enough wealth in this world that no child should go hungry, especially in school.”
Mind you, my mother was far from being some kind of bleeding heart, socialist-leaning liberal.
But when school officials held a special retirement party and tribute for her, they spoke of her empathy for poor children–and of how upset she became any time “free lunch” programs were slashed by government.
She couldn’t bear the thought of any child going hungry–she knew from her own childhood experience how hunger felt.
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Another bothersome thing to me in the article is that the child in question was given a “government cheese sandwich” while the hot meal (chicken nuggets) was thrown away.
I’m not sure that chicken nuggets are the best kind of “hot meal” for an elementary student, but a bowl of 20 beans would beat the indignity of a “government cheese sandwich.”
It’s astounding to me that is this day and age, school districts across the fruited plains are never at a shortage of money for ever-expanding football and sports programs.
My beloved Texas is just the most shameful in this regard. Huge school districts are building state-of-the-art stadiums, practice facilities and weight rooms for high school kids.
In my own stomping grounds north of Dallas, the upscale school district in the suburb of McKinney is spending $70 million to build a new high-school football with a 55-foot-wide, HD video screen, bigger than some NFL stadiums.
The neighboring school district in Allen, where my permanent home church is, built a stadium at an equally eye-popping cost a few years ago, although it did provide space for other uses. (It came with a huge number of construction problems that had to be fixed.)
It so happens that a study released earlier this month found that 294,650 people are living in poverty in Dallas — nearly twice the population of McKinney where that $70 million stadium is in the works.
Texas government gives tax breaks to Texas-Size NFL Stadiums. College alums donate massive amounts of monies for sports facilities and programs.
Meanwhile up north, at the University of New Hampshire, a flap arose after the school spent $1 million toward a video scoreboard for its new $25 million football stadium. At issue is the fact the $1 million came from the $4 million that a thrifty and humble donor bequeathed to the university from which he graduated in 1963 and where he worked for almost 50 years as a library cataloguer.
What’s wrong with this picture?
What’s wrong with our priorities?
Where are the priorities of churches and faith traditions?
Is this the America that God has “blessed?”
(*Mind you–I was bothered by the shot that Ms. Koltiska took at school officials at the end of the piece, in which she dismissed them as cold-hearted “suits.” I can understand and appreciate her passion for justice for hungry kids, but cheap shots aimed at former employers she doesn’t personally know aren’t helpful.)
*About the book: I’m still trying to raise the goal amount and in the meantime, I’m tweaking the book’s manuscript, taking the time to improve on it. More on the fund raising here: https://funds.gofundme.com/dashboard/gofund-me-2p7pu4c