SC senator and advocacy groups call for free school meals for students

COLUMBIA, SC (WOLO) — According to the group Wholespire, 1 in 7 children in South Carolina are undernourished.

“We are together united to support the needs of children and families who are facing food insecurity in this state,” said Hafeezah Yates with the Save the Children Action Network.

Approximately 153,000 children in South Carolina go hungry a day. In Fairfield County School District, more than 80 percent of students are eligible for free lunch.

“A child who is hungry is not going to be worried about algebra or Macbeth,” said Fairfield County School District superintendent Dr. J.R. Green. ” We have to take care of basic needs before we can address academic needs.”

Several groups were at the statehouse Tuesday supporting a school lunch bill introduced by Senator Katrina Shealy.

“I work very hard for children,” said Sen. Shealy, a Republican from Lexington. “Once they come into this world, they have an advocate.”

Shealy’s bill seeks to give all public school students free breakfast and lunch each school day.

“Universal school meal legislation will provide an equal distribution of nourishing meals,” said Meg Stanley, executive director of Wholespire. “It will lessen the issues of food shaming. It will ease administrative burdens and equip students to fulfill their academic potential.”

According to state data, 64 percent of students in South Carolina are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

Districts with more than 40 percent of students receiving free lunch can qualify for a federal school lunch assistance program.

“We have about 108 schools that are qualified to participate in the program but are not participating,” Stanley said.

Fairfield County School District already participates in the federal free lunch program and its superintendent says it has worked well for parents and students.

“I’ve been perplexed why more school districts pursue it,” Dr. Green said. “I’m not sure. I don’t know if some see it as a stigma of sorts.”

Speaking of stigmas… Wholespire’s director says that some kids in the state not only go hungry… but also miss out on other opportunities because their family cannot afford school lunch. 

“There are many districts where if a child has lunch debt, they are not able to participate in academically enriching programs,” Stanley said. “That punishment has nothing to do with lunch debt.”

Shealy’s proposed bill would also extend public schools’ lunch period by 10 minutes.


Categories: Fairfield, Lexington, Local News, Richland