Editorial: Summer lunch is good use of tax dollars
About 1,000 children are being served free lunches every day between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. at Ellis Middle and Austin High School. Even though the school year ended June 6, the need hasn't gone away.
More than 50 percent of Mower County children are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, according the 2012 Kids Count Minnesota report. The survey also found that 16 percent of Mower County children live below the poverty line, and 23 percent are in households eligible for food stamps.
Mary Weikum, director of food and nutrition for Austin Public Schools, estimates the food staff will serve 35,000 lunches this summer, about the same as 2011. Her staff served more than 40,000 in 2010.
So, yes, Austin summer lunch staff has been busy.
School lunch programs date back more than 100 years in the United States, but didn't become common until President Truman signed the National School Lunch Program into law in 1946. Not every public and non-profit private school in the nation participates, but more 100,000 do. In the 65-year history of federal nutrition assistance, the program has expanded to include the School Breakfast Program, Snack Program, Child and Adult Care Feeding Program and the Summer Food Service Program.
Jessica Rembao is one Austin resident who brought her five children, ranging from six months to 10 years, to the high school for lunch.
"It helps because we are lower income," Rembao said. "It's one more meal that we don't have to worry about."
Now, we can anticipate critics asking why the parents can't feed their children or wondering if the government is becoming a nanny state. Those are fair questions, but with Mower County's median household income of $43,000, one can deduce that families with multiple children are stressed financially, especially when school is out for the summer.
In a tough economy, don't punish the children for their parents' struggle to put food on the table.
Weikum said it best.
"There's really not a better use for our tax dollars than feeding our kids."