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GUEST BLOG: Universal Meals for All Students

Who’s ready for fall? I know I’m sure ready for a little break from the Wyoming heat!

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Even though it may look a little different this year, we all know that with the turn of the seasons comes back to school! It’s imperative that kiddos be able to concentrate and thrive in whatever learning environment they’re placed in. School is difficult enough- especially during a pandemic. The last thing a child should have to be worrying about is where his/her next meal is coming from, or attempting to learn and focus on an empty stomach. Food insecurity is one of the largest barriers to success in the classroom! Did you know that 35% of households with children nationwide were already experiencing food insecurity in the beginning of the pandemic in April? That number has only grown since then as economic hardships have increased, and severe financial cuts have left many school districts struggling to fund school meal services like breakfast and lunch.

To combat this, a group of U.S. Representatives in Washington D.C. have introduced the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act, which would ensure that all students, in every state, get two healthy meals every school day. This legislation is unique in the way that it would make these meals available to students regardless of their family’s ability to pay or what their school’s new structure looks like. That means that even students who are newly eligible (or near eligibility) would be completely covered- no questions asked, and no kiddo left behind. All school children would be temporarily eligible for school breakfast and lunch programs during the 2020-2021 school year! 

I know from my previous work with a nonprofit that provides tens of thousands of food bags to students in my hometown each year that there’s occasionally a societal stigma surrounding food insecurity. This can be exacerbated among youth, and it results in embarrassment and shame- something no kid should have to experience. With this legislation, the risk of stigma would be removed from the situation because meals would be provided equitably and universally. In addition, the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act would allow school food service programs to recover and steady their budgets as they adjust from inevitable cuts. The unfortunate truth is that school districts in Wyoming (and around the U.S.) are going to suffer greatly during the economic downturn- we’ve likely only begun to see the very tip of the iceberg in our state. Many believe this may even result in permanent school closures; and we need to do what we can to support our schools and our youth during the transition. The primary function of school meal programs is to provide healthy meals for all children- let’s let them focus on that!

I’ve seen the positive impact that access to healthy food has on students of all ages. It gives them the ability to focus, concentrate, recall, and learn in class. For some, school breakfasts or lunches may be the only food they consistently have, and every student deserves a fair chance! The reality is that this issue affects students in every community around the country; so I encourage you to support this legislation and be aware of school and external meal programs in your community- see how you can donate or volunteer!

Finally, please consider contacting your legislators to ask them to support HR 7887- the Pandemic Child Hunger Prevention Act. Universal meals will help reduce a heavy burden on families and school districts alike, remove stereotypes and stigmas from meal program participation, and provide widespread, fair access to healthy meals to student populations. Your support will make all the difference to kiddos and their families who are struggling during the pandemic- and we all are, in our own way, right? There’s no shame in it, and we can use unity to get through it and build a healthier future as a result of it. Let’s support our friends and neighbors; starting by providing universal access to healthy meals in our schools!

Forever your Miss Wyoming 2017 and AHA Advocate,

Cheyenne Buyert

 

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