He’s learned two key truths: Just about every kid loves pizza, and an alarming number of American youngsters still can’t afford a $2.35 lunch, despite the dramatic expansion of free and reduced lunch programs.
When a student doesn’t have enough money for lunch, cafeteria staff in many districts, including Antignolo’s, take away the child’s tray of hot food and hand the student a brown paper bag containing a cold cheese sandwich and a small milk. Some schools take away their lunch entirely.
“It’s the worst part of the job. Nobody likes it,” says Antignolo, who’s now director of food services at the Lamar Consolidated District outside Houston.
All the other kids in the lunch line know what’s going on. Getting that brown bag is the lunch line equivalent of being branded with a Scarlet Letter. It’s been dubbed “school lunch shaming.”
It happens across the country: 76% of America’s school districts have kids with school lunch debt, according to the School Nutrition Association. The horror stories keep coming. In 2015, a Colorado cafeteria worker says she was fired for personally paying for a first grader’s meal. Last year, a Pennsylvania lunch lady quit in protest after being forced to take food away from a student who was $25 in debt.