Kids being shamed for their poverty? Not on our watch.
So, I read this article in the Times this morning and it made me so angry and so sad and so disgusted that I determined I have to Do Something about it. This one's personal for me: when I was in high school, we were super poor and so for a while, my sister and I qualified for free school lunches. In order to eat each day, we had to present a green ticket to the lunch lady. Doesn't sound bad except that the only people who paid for lunch with green tickets were the poor kids. I was so embarrassed and ashamed. Lunch was a source of daily anxiety for me. I didn't want my friends to see the ticket, so I would try to rush over there before meeting up with them. Or say I wasn't hungry when they all went, then sneak over to the car before the bell rang for classes. Some days I went hungry because it was just too humiliating. Once, I accidentally brought the wrong ticket (each one had a date) and the lunch lady refused to give me food. I was so hungry for the rest of the day, and so full of shame and jealousy.
Why was it so much easier for other kids, who could just present some cash in exchange for food like it's no big deal? Or bring food from home? I've now talked about my green ticket horror in two of my books and it's something I talk to teens about when I go on school visits. I want them to know that you can go from that to published author. That it's possible not to have a green ticket life. I'm even writing a middle grade short story about it for an anthology. I REALLY CARE ABOUT THIS. I think schools should have cards that kids load with money so that everyone has the same card, regardless of whether that money comes from parents or the state, much like many welfare programs have. When I read about kids being denied food and purposefully humiliated (you have to read this article) I felt this wave of fury roll through me. This is not okay. Whatever your politics, this is not, nor ever will be, an acceptable way to treat children.
So here's my idea and I want to know what you all think: I want to start a Go Fund Me campaign where each month, a YA author's high school that has lunch food debt is the recipient of donations from the YA writing, reading, and publishing community, as well as members of the community the high school is in. I'm currently in the process of finding out if my high school has lunch debt, and what their system is for kids in need. Even if a school doesn't have debt, it would be good to have an account so that if a kid is hungry and forgot their lunch ticket or whatever, there are funds for the school to feed them that day.
Who's in? Any ideas about how to best organize? I've never used Go Fund Me, but I did work with Crowd Rise to raise money for scholarships. I think Go Fund Me is the better choice for this, though, because it'll be easier to get the money to schools. Email me if you have thoughts or want to connect about this.
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