Everyone's talking about this story from East Tennessee in The Washington Post about a new program to take buses full of food out to poor rural kids to make sure they get fed. Two things make the story unbearably depressing.
The first is the acknowledgement that our public schools serve an important role as our nation's hidden soup kitchens:
First, schools became the country’s biggest soup kitchens, as free and reduced-price lunch programs expanded to include free breakfast, then free snacks and then free backpacks of canned goods sent home for weekends. Now those programs are extending into summer, even though classes stop, in order for children to have a dependable source of food. Some elementary school buildings stay open year-round so cafeterias can serve low-income students. High schools begin summer programs earlier to offer free breakfast.
And late last month came the newest iteration: a school bus retrofitted into a bread truck bouncing along a potholed road near the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The second is that the people they're helping are not just the unemployed.
She had spent her day preparing meals for $8 an hour in an industrial kitchen at the nursing home: 50 servings of breaded pork chops, rolls and macaroni salad — unless, of course, residents requested something else, in which case she cooked to order. She prepared chef salads, chicken soup and sweet-potato pies until the leftovers filled the refrigerator and stacked on the counter. A few weeks earlier, a boss had spotted her taking some of those leftovers home and threatened to put her on probation. So now Jennifer had returned to the trailer empty-handed, with five more dinners left to make for her children.
So here's someone who's doing exactly what our state tells her she's supposed to be doing. If she gets pregnant, she has the kid. She has a job. And it pays her so little that she can't afford to feed her kids. Her work has leftovers, more than the residents can eat, and yet Jennifer's children are starving. She makes above minimum wage and she can't feed her kids.
The idea of her making so much food for her employers that they can't use it all while her kids have to get their lunches from the government just makes me so angry and frustrated.
We're fond, in this country, of telling people to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. How is Jennifer Laughren supposed to afford bootstraps?