There’s a Facebook meme going around lately that’s bugging me. It says “I don’t want to feed hungry children so they’ll do better in school. I just want to feed them because they’re hungry.” I think it’s supposed to show the compassion of the poster, because they’re all about feeding the hungry instead of worrying about outcomes, or something. Like so many FB memes, it’s ridiculously oversimplified – as if you could only have one reason for feeding a hungry child.
The thing is, if you feed a child today, she’ll be hungry again tomorrow. It’s a bandage, not a long-term healing. I don’t say that to deride bandages – without them you can bleed to death before any healing occurs. Acute problems need immediate actions to give you time to ceate a systemic fix. But if you only apply that bandage, then you’ve still got the main problem – a child who isn’t getting fed at home.
On the other hand, if you feed that child today, and again tomorrow, and the next day, and the rest of the term, he’s got a reason to keep coming to school and the resources to pay attention once he’s there. If you keep feeding her as long as she needs it, she’s got more reason to stay in school.
Maybe that kid will grow up to be Ray Fields. Ray was probably the most financially successful person I knew growing up – he started a grocery store, built it into a small chain, and eventually sold the chain to Safeway. he still lived on our block because he liked it, but drove a nice car and wintered in Florida. He was a happy man, I think, with a stable marriage, a son he got along with and eventually two beautiful granddaughters. He was also a good man and a wise one; everybody on the block liked hanging out and talking to him, because he was always interesting and interested in you. He told me once that school lunch was sometimes the only good meal he got in a day, growing up during the Depression, and that it was the main reason he and his brother went to school.
Or maybe that kid won’t be Ray Fields. Maybe he’ll just be a kid who doesn’t drop out of high school, and who doesn’t have all the later health issues that childhood malnutrition can lead to. That’s still a pretty good outcome – and one that will help the kid earn enough of a living that she and her own kids won’t go hungry in the future.
So one school meal feeds a hungry kid so he isn’t hungry anymore, and a whole program of them can change lives and improve society. It’s both a bandage and a long-term solution. Pretty good for an intervention that isn’t even all that expensive (compared to, say, sending 100 Secret Service agents to Aspen and getting them skis). I agree that helping a hungry kid to not be hungry anymore is a worthy goal; I just don’t think it’s any reason to scoff at the long-term benefits of that school lunch.