Wednesday, September 05, 2007

MOST Days I Like PB&J

I truly do like a good PB&J sandwich every now and then. I have my favorite peanut butter (Jif-Reduced Fat-Creamy) and my favorite jelly (Smuckers Grape). Add a nice cup of cold milk, and I am suddenly eight or nine or ten again.

But, around the second week of school, I really hate what the PB&J represents. You see, the school lunch program is a federally funded program. It is designed so that all children can get a well-balanced meal at lunch time (regardless of socio-economic status). Normally, an elementary school lunch consists of a "main dish", vegetable, fruit, and milk. Occasionally there is a roll or something thrown in there as well. On most days, I think they do a decent job of providing meals for our students.

But, on day seven of school, things CAN change for students. If you are a child who has a parent that neglected to fill out the application for free/reduced lunch OR you are a child of a parent who simply isn't responsible enough to hand you your lunch money, YOU are no longer "entitled" to the lunch that everyone else gets. Nope. YOU get PB&J. And for good measure, they'll add the milk! One sandwich and a milk.

Now, picture every five year old you've ever known. They're little. They have interesting thought processes. But the beginning of school is one GIANT training ground for them. Many of them think the people in the lunchroom are "giving" them a lunch everyday. In fact, these are the kids who genuinely LIKE their school lunches. They certainly have little or no understanding of "accounts" and paperwork and applications for free/reduced lunch. I'm not even sure they understand the "IOU" slip they get when they haven't paid. If English is not their first language (and many fall into this category), then they REALLY do not understand.

Add to this picture what I "got" to see and do today. For every child who fits in the category I described above, the scene goes like this.

1. Pick up my milk.
2. Tell the lady whether I want macaroni and cheese or a ham and cheese sandwich.
3. She adds carrots and a roll to my meal.
4. I get to pick out a fruit. I can choose from a banana, pineapple cup, or grapes. I choose grapes.
5. I go to the lady to pay and put in my PIN number.
6. The lady at the "money table" announces, "NOPE. You don't have any money left. You have to have peanut butter and jelly."
7. She picks up my tray and returns it to the first lady who gave me all the stuff to begin with.
8. She brings me a tray with ONE measly sandwich on it and smiles at me when she says, "Remind Mom to send money in with you tomorrow." And then she sends me to join my class while THEY eat mac&cheese and/or their ham&cheese sandwich.
9. While this was happening, one of my classmates is standing with their parent in line waiting to pay for their meals. The parent looks at the lunch lady with great pity because she knows SHE is not "like my family".

Can you imagine the devastation? Can you imagine the confusion? Can you imagine if that is the ONLY "real" meal that child will get today? Can you imagine what happens when a child has no "Mom" at home? Can you imagine what it feels like to be the "most" responsible person in your house and yet be shorter than everyone else and basically ignored?

Yes, MOST days, I like PB&J.

Today, however, is not one of them!