No child left hungry

Valerie Potter


I was reading a letter to the editor two weeks ago about the Minot Public School (MPS) “peanut butter sandwich policy”.

I worked for the (MPS) system as a lunchroom supervisor and in the kitchen for many years at Lewis and Clark Elementary School. I would like the readers to read “my perspective” as to what I witnessed on the opposite end of the counter when dealing with families who had negative lunch account balances.

I can assure the readers, students were NEVER shamed into eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich if a child had a negative lunch account balance. What the public never saw, or heard, were the countless phone calls, email reminders, verbal letters sent home to parents and verbal messages to the student asking to have money deposited into their child’s lunch account. Only after multiple FAILED attempts of trying to obtain funds from family members by a deadline, was the student provided with sandwich and milk.

Other things I had witnessed in the lunchroom was the amount of food and milk that was wasted and thrown away by kids (Both whose families had packed them a lunch and those who bought their lunch through the school). Parents would complain about their children not having enough time to eat during lunch. I can assure you, there is enough time for students to eat. I walked around and observed the amount of food consumed by students and if they refused to eat (whether it was because they would not stop talking or just did not feel like eating), I would not allow them to go outside for recess until they had eaten something from their lunch. No children ever left our lunchroom hungry.

I do not think parents understand how much the MPS staff really care for the kids at our schools. I personally treated kids just as if the child was my own. We had a cashier at our school donate a pair of shoes to a boy in the 5th grade whose shoes were so small that he had problems walking. Teachers and other staff brought coats for kids whose parents failed to dress them appropriately for the weather. Sometimes if there was a surplus of food at the end of a day, the kitchen staff would serve seconds (to the older kids because they were the last to eat) if they wanted more. Trust me, there are no better or more trustworthy people than the people I worked with at Lewis and Clark Elementary school when it came to looking out for the welfare of your children.

Students never had their food taken away and were never scolded or made to feel embarrassed at the till for not having money in their lunch account. In fact, staff would speak to students privately, before they even walked into the lunchroom. Students were ALWAYS treated with respect and many times the staff went the extra mile to make sure the students did not feel embarrassed, ridiculed or ashamed (not only in this specific situation, but other situations as well). I often told students the following: “This sort of thing happens all the time to other students as well, you are not the only one. This is a rule we need to follow and when rules are not followed, this is the consequence.” In all the years I worked in the lunchroom, the longest period I ever witnessed a child served a sandwich and milk was 3 days. Where there was a will, there was a way and money made it into the child’s account. As you can probably guess, the child made it through the ordeal, as children are very resilient in cases like this.

Are there problems with children going hungry in this community? Yes. Are there parents who spend money on unwise purchases? Yes. Are there parents who are barely making enough money to pay their bills? Yes. Are there situations where we have no idea what is going on in that particular household at that particular time? Yes. One could go on and on about all the problems adults and children face in our community. This is life. We all have our sad stories. However, as a parent it is MY responsibility to provide for my children. This means, I will work six jobs if I have to to make sure I have provided for my child. This means, I will sign up for whatever programs I am eligible for to get extra food pantry items in my household no matter how embarrassing it may be for me. This means, I will cut back on the purchasing the latest and greatest things I WANT in order to provide for my child’s NEEDS. Being a parent means making sacrifices and putting my child’s needs ahead of my own. Being parent also means setting an example for our children.

I am sure people will continue to post their opinion all over social media about how terrible their child was treated by the MPS lunchroom staff and the dreadful “peanut butter sandwich policy” because unfortunately this is the way so many people want to vent their problems. It is easier to rant on social media than to sit down like an adult and work out a solution to the problem.

Wouldn’t it be great if people took few seconds before posting their complaints on Facebook to ask themselves this question: “What could I have done to make sure my child was not served that peanut butter sandwich for lunch?”