The need has always been clear. Children need healthy food like they need books and teachers — to learn and thrive in school.
But in this country, and Colorado, we have not ensured students have this basic need met. Too many children go hungry in school. Their family may be just above the income level to qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and is struggling to cover the rising costs of living in Colorado. Students may be children of immigrants who are afraid to fill out any form. Children may be in a family in crisis for other reasons. There are many, many reasons a child may leave their home without food or money to pay for food at school. And in the end, they go hungry.
Providing school meals for all children can help stop stigma, bullying, and self-esteem issues. It can let kids be kids, together. It would help that middle schooler who skips lunch and ends up tired and frustrated and alone, get the food they need to focus, enjoy learning, and engage with their classmates.
We are in a moment of opportunity where change is possible. Congress is considering the Build Back Better Act, which if passed, would allow more Colorado schools, or even the state, to participate in an option to provide school meals to all children at a lower cost.
Much like the other good policies to improve access to health care and housing in the Build Back Better Act, school meals for all students would help the families who continue to face hurdles because of COVID-19. It would help our state’s economy with more resources for schools for the long term. We invest so much in public education; feeding children while they are learning should be included in that investment.
We need our Congress to act now and pass the Build Back Better Act. It has the funding mechanisms to cover its costs, by closing loopholes for corporations and the wealthy. It will create an infrastructure of healthier children through the school nutrition pieces, among its other important components. It is time for Congress to finally get this important legislation across the finish line.
Ashley Wheeland is the director of public policy for Hunger Free Colorado. Hunger Free Colorado, a statewide nonprofit organization, connects people to food resources to meet existing needs and drives policy, systems, and social change to end hunger.