School Nutrition Association Pushes for Universal Free Meals
By WVUA 23 News Reporter Mattie Davis
While much of the nation shut down because of COVID-19 at some point last year, public schools continued carrying out one of their most important functions: feeding children.
A temporary change in federal regulations in the midst of the pandemic allowed schools to hand out meals to all children for free.
Tuscaloosa County Child Nutrition Director Donette Worthy said the shutdown brought light to a need in the Tuscaloosa community.
“One thing that I would say that came out positive from the pandemic is that it has shown that universal meals is something that we do need,” Worthy said.
The temporary action expires in June, but the School Nutrition Association is asking Congress to pass a bill to offer free meals for all students indefinitely.
Worthy said this is something the SNA has been advocating for years, and the pandemic produced a trial run that was successful.
Worthy said the benefits carry over into the classroom and the future health of students.
“If a child has not eaten breakfast or lunch for whatever reason that’s going to affect their classroom performance,” Worthy said.
Every student should have equal access to breakfast and lunch, Worthy said. That eliminates any stigmas for students to benefit from the meals.
“They wouldn’t have to worry about that because a lot more people are eating,” Worthy said. “So, the stigma’s gone. We do have some kids who won’t eat because of that, and they just go hungry.”
Universal meals would also eliminate the timely application process parents must go through for their children and the work hours needed to approve or deny those applications.
The School Nutrition Association is asking Congress to trust them in knowing what is best for students.
“Let us tell you what we need and honestly trust us enough to go with it,” Worthy said. “We are telling you that our children need universal meals. Trust us. We’re the professionals to get it done.”
Worthy said they aren’t giving up on their goal any time soon, and they have a message for students and their parents.
“We love you, we care for you, and we are going to continue to fight for you every single day,” Worthy said. “The fight won’t stop. We will keep pushing.”