Jump to content
  • Welcome to the eG Forums, a service of the eGullet Society for Culinary Arts & Letters. The Society is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization dedicated to the advancement of the culinary arts. These advertising-free forums are provided free of charge through donations from Society members. Anyone may read the forums, but to post you must create a free account.

The Cheese Sandwich of Shame


Recommended Posts

A story in the LA Times describes a method of reducing debt within the school system from parents who have not paid their children's lunch bills:

When too many parents fell behind on paying for school lunches, the Chula Vista Elementary School District decided to get tough — on the children.

They told students with deadbeat parents that they had only one lunch choice: a cheese sandwich.

The sandwich, served on whole wheat bread, came with a clear message: Tell your parents to pay up — or no more pizza and burgers for you.

Cheese sandwiches and other "alternate meals" have been added to menus in school districts across the country as they try to take a bite out of parents' lunch debts.

The strategy worked in Chula Vista: Lunch debts in the district fell from about $300,000 in 2004 to $67,000 in 2006.

School districts have long struggled with parents' failure to keep up with lunch payments. The problem is worse in wealthier areas, where most children do not receive free or reduced-price lunches. In Chula Vista, 61% of children pay full price for their lunches.

Districts stress that the alternate meals are a last resort.

They send letters to parents. They hire collection agencies. Some place stickers on children's hands or put rubber bands on their wrists as reminders, said Peterson.

But alternate meals get the best results.

One Chula Vista third-grader, whose mother requested that the girl not be identified, said students sometimes ostracize the cheese sandwich kids, switching tables and talking behind their backs. "Some kids say they're not the kind of kids you want to hang out with," she said.

Another girl said the cheese sandwich is "for people who don't have money."

Rosemarie Gonzalez said her daughter, a first-grader, was so troubled when she got the cheese sandwich that for three weeks she had to be reassured that her lunch account was current. Another panicky child broke into her piggy bank just in case her parents needed money.

Gosh, I really do not know *how* I feel about this. :unsure:

Any thoughts?

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Well it's better than refusing to feed them I guess.

Not sure if that is the most nutritionally balanced of meals - but I guess the other 'popular' options aren't either.

I love animals.

They are delicious.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Todd and Carlovski: actually I was thinking about those things as well. "I'd love a plain cheese sandwich!" "At least they're giving them free lunch?" "Those other options aren't very healthy..." But that last section in the quoted part of the article really alarmed me (here's probably where the "Food Tradition and Culture" part kicks in..). Kids can be really cruel (or I can really watch a lot of Oprah!).

Actually I wasn't aware of the US system (when I was in school we weren't given lunch, we paid in the cafeteria same as regular folk).

Mark

The Gastronomer's Bookshelf - Collaborative book reviews about food and food culture. Submit a review today! :)

No Special Effects - my reader-friendly blog about food and life.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Taylor said switching to vegetable and fruit trays changed everything. Among last week's menu items for students with lunch balances: crunchy cole slaw, fried squash and steamed cabbage. "The outstanding debt has been reduced to nothing," she said.

:laugh:

Link to comment
Share on other sites

At last something to do with all that broccoli stockpiled at the White House, perhaps?

(Yes, I know this was two Presidents of the United States ago, but if it's anything like Civil Defense crackers, the broccoli is still around, I assure you.)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Don't kids love grilled cheese sandwiches? Is this really a punishment? Or are we talking about a cold cheese sandwich.

It's a cold cheese sandwich, using government commodity cheese. Out here in California that means waxy, nasty, salty American cheese.

I guess the school my kids go to is stricter about it... they only let you get to -$2.25 (the price of one lunch), before they give your child a milk/fruit/veggie tray. They generally stamp their hands or send home a note when the kids use their last fully paid lunch. My kids are usually pretty good about telling us. Granted, my kids only buy lunch once a week on average.

Cheryl

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In our elementary school, the PTA set money aside for a lunch money account each month for a few meals but there is also the choice of peanut butter sandwich or cheese sandwich. The cafeteria sends a sticker home when the balance gets too low with the balance amount. It can go negative but I don't know what the cut off is. I do know that a few times my son would go for the pb sandwich even when he did have money because he didn't like the lunch (kindergarten & 1st grade)! So I don't know if there was/is any stigma to it or not. Kristin has some really great Japanese School lunch posts on this site. I wish our schools had something similar.

N.

"The main thing to remember about Italian food is that when you put your groceries in the car, the quality of your dinner has already been decided." – Mario Batali
Link to comment
Share on other sites

My daughter's school lost my cafeteria check once this year, and didn't send a note home or call when her balance dropped to zero. She got a PTA-provided peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The cafeteria workers were not nice about it, and she spent the rest of the afternoon crying.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Given that most school food programs are self-supporting, and are funded only by the revenue from selling meals, the situation is not dissimilar to a restaurant. Typically, the food program is not subsidized by the district, and they have to pay their own food costs, labor, rent and the like. In some cases, the programs are also obligated to contribute a percentage of their profits to the district to subsidize other programs.

So I can understand why the school food programs have to be run like a business.

Regards,

Michael Lloyd

Mill Creek, Washington USA

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh I just love the idea of traumatizing children because of their parents' mistakes, oversights, and/or negligence. It's such a compassionate and mature way of handling things. The kids can take it.  :wacko:

As the mother of two (now grown) girls. I couldn't agree more with your take on this. Don't we all remember how important it is not to be singled out as the "different" kid when you're that age? There has got to be a better way to get the parents to pay up.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Oh I just love the idea of traumatizing children because of their parents' mistakes, oversights, and/or negligence. It's such a compassionate and mature way of handling things. The kids can take it.  :wacko:

As the mother of two (now grown) girls. I couldn't agree more with your take on this. Don't we all remember how important it is not to be singled out as the "different" kid when you're that age? There has got to be a better way to get the parents to pay up.

Unfortunatly, there aren't many other options for the school to take. Singling out the child should be last resort, and that seems to be exactly what they are doing, using it as a last resort.

Yes, sometimes parents are a little absent minded and forget where they stand on the lunch balance, but those aren't the people targetted with this. The article says that they have sent letters and even hired collections agencies, not quite an "oversight" or a "mistake" on the parents fault ("What? That letter was from a collection agency! I thought it was a Christmas card from Aunt Lil, you know how she is in her old age"). These parents are deliberatly avoiding having to pay for a school lunch, and the program (for all of the students) will suffer for it. They tried normal tactics, but nothing was working. I can't imagine another strategy that they could have tried. They can't just write it off.

The strategy worked in Chula Vista: Lunch debts in the district fell from about $300,000 in 2004 to $67,000 in 2006

...

In Chula Vista, the largest elementary school district in the state, administrators said they had to control the ballooning debt before it forced them to make cuts in such areas as classroom equipment and books.

I would rather a few kids were horribly and irrevesibly traumatized by being forced to eat a cheese sandwich instead of pizza, than the rest of their education had to suffer because their parents were too proud to register for a free lunch program, and too big of jerks to bother paying.

Long time lurker, first time poster :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Given that most school food programs are self-supporting, and are funded only by the revenue from selling meals, the situation is not dissimilar to a restaurant.    Typically, the food program is not subsidized by the district, and they have to pay their own food costs, labor, rent and the like.  In some cases, the programs are also obligated to contribute a percentage of their profits to the district to subsidize other programs.

So I can understand why the school food programs have to be run like a business.

Any school that participates in the free and reduced school lunch program gets cash subsidies and commodities from the USDA... not enough to run the entire program, but it's something.

Most public school districts in CA participate in this program. The income limits are pretty high.

Cheryl

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have the feeling I should feel bad about this. But I don't.

As long as the parents have been notified by some other means first, I don't have a problem with this. I don't see how the cheeze sandwich of shame is different from the sticker of shame. The schools don't have the money to foot the bill for unpaid meals. If they have gone as far as to employ collection agencies I don't see where they have other options.

If you're too worried about the kid being traumatized have them brown bag it.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Sometimes the check is misplaced, but I wonder how many times they have heard "The check is in the mail." or "I'll promise to send it next week." or just had their letters and calls ignored. It had to be pretty bad if they are having to resort to this method to reach the parents and get them to act.

I don't fault the schools at all. The article did say that some schools still gave them full access to the salad bar if they wished to eat something else.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The Wichita school district has a HUGE percentage of free- and reduced-price lunch kids, so if you meet the guidelines, your kids get a breakfast and a hot lunch for free, but if you DON'T meet the guidelines and go more than one lunch in arrears, your kids get peanut-butter crackers and juice. My younger daughter's school is at 83% subsidized meals, and it always bugs me during enrollment when I hear a parent describing their $150,000 house they've just moved into while they're filling out a free-lunch application. (Note to those of you living on the east or west coast -- around here $150,000 house is medium-to-upper middle class housing, NOT poverty level.)

My younger daughter won't eat the school lunches anyway - she takes lunch EVERY day. My older daughter only eats when it's "delivery pizza" or nachos or tacos, so we make most of the lunches at home.

I can't imagine ostracizing a student for eating a cheese sandwich, but maybe that's because around here 60-80% of the students are eating for free, anyway.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

“A favorite dish in Kansas is creamed corn on a stick.”

-Jeff Harms, actor, comedian.

>Enjoying every bite, because I don't know any better...

Link to comment
Share on other sites

So why can't we just go back to the old way of doing things...when I was in elementary school, I had to buy lunch tickets each week. I have no idea what would happen if a child came to school without a lunch or a lunch ticket, but I don't ever recall that happening, at any rate.

Erin

"American by birth, Irish by the grace of God"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Given that most school food programs are self-supporting, and are funded only by the revenue from selling meals, the situation is not dissimilar to a restaurant.    Typically, the food program is not subsidized by the district, and they have to pay their own food costs, labor, rent and the like.  In some cases, the programs are also obligated to contribute a percentage of their profits to the district to subsidize other programs.

So I can understand why the school food programs have to be run like a business.

This is not a true statement.

- School lunch programs are NOT self supporting, they are funded by the U.S. government, meaning they are funded by our tax dollars.

- A school district that does not have significant portion of fee and reduced lunch eligible students almost always has to subsidize their food service operation. Every school lunch director has heard that their program can not "infringe on the General Fund" because that means the district has to pay, and many, many do.

- Yes, food service operations have to pay their own food cost, but what they don't get from the USDA in the way of commodities is purchased by General Fund monies. USDA Commodities cost $2/case (they are NOT free to the school district) and any finished food product made from donated USDA Commodities is about 80-90% cheaper than retail. Commodities are not universally bad, they just aren't created equal...commodity cheese can take many forms, some of it is really quite good. Schools are offered commodities 4-6 times a year and their offerings are based on the percentage of fee/reduced priced students and what the Feds need to move off the market. Given the meteoric rise in cheese prices this spring, there probably will not be much available.

- Food service operations in public schools do not typically pay rent to the district. Many cash strapped districts - particularly in the State of California - have tried to charge food service programs outrageous overhead fees for repairs, utilities, etc., to cover their own shortfalls. Many states have now passed laws amending their State Education Codes to preclude this practice.

- Unless contracted, most school food service employees are District employees and part of the district payroll system, which really means that our tax dollars are paying these people. Many school districts do not employee food service workers for more than 3 3/4 hrs./day in order to avoid paying benefits, which is a very costly proposition these days.

My information is based on my 10 years as a school food service director, including 5 years as Dir. of FS for the San Francisco Unified School District in the early 90s. It's a brutal way to make a living.

Edited by kalypso (log)
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Interesting commentary from a California professional. But my information comes from a close relative who runs the FS for a local school district. She does have to pay her own food costs, labor, rent and help subsidize the district. Her largest food vendor is Sysco, since commodities make up a relatively small proportion of her food supply. Clearly things are different in California than they are in Washington. She often talks about how her financial picture would be better if she could get the espresso concession in the high schools; but the ASB student government gets that.

Her district is somewhat unique, in that many of the remaining large districts in this area have now contracted out their food service to management companies. Sodexho and Canteen are the large operators in this area, I am told. I assume that these commercial companies must be making a profit. Periodically, those companies make a pitch to the School Board about how they can take over, and make more money for the district. I always wondered how they would be able to do that.

Edited by MGLloyd (log)

Regards,

Michael Lloyd

Mill Creek, Washington USA

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Our public school system runs its own food service, paid for by my property taxes. I'd like to think that for my 6K/year they might be willing to make a phone call if my daughter's balance dropped to zero. It was handled very poorly. She got her lunch, then they took it away from her when she entered her PIN.

Lunch tickets and money can be lost or extorted by bullies. That's one reason that our district has gone to maintaining accounts with PINs.

Heather Johnson

In Good Thyme

Link to comment
Share on other sites

 Share

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...