In a country with an abundance of food, millions in the U.S. still go hungry. Our schools provide evidence of that every day.
An estimated 60 percent of the students in the Clark County School District—that's more than 200,000 kids—receive free or reduced lunch.
And in Washoe County, 48 percent receive free lunch.
Mixed in with all of that is so-called food shaming. Reports have surfaced around the country of children who haven't paid for lunch having their hands stamped for their parents to see. Another report surfaced that a child with an overdue lunch bill had his tray of food dumped into the garbage by a school cook.
School districts in Clark and Washoe county are wrangling with the issue of unpaid lunch bills, too. Washoe County School District has seen a doubling of those unpaid bills in the last year.
Pete Etchart is the chief operations officer for Washoe County School District. He said he doesn't know why there is such a big jump in the number of unpaid lunch bills.
"We don't really ask parents why they're not paying the bill," he said, "We just trying to really work with them to make it as easy as possible to pay."
He said it might be people know their child won't be turned away for not paying a bill, so either they don't pay or they may not want to fill out paperwork for the free lunch program.
The Washoe County School Board started talking about potentially offering an alternative meal, where students with a negative balance will instead get a reduced price lunch that is a simpler meal like a cheese sandwich. But after discussing it, the board decided instead to monitor the situation.
"We never want to put a child in a position where they feel like they're being identified or 'shamed' in front of their peers when it comes to meals," Etchart said.
David Wines, the food services director for Clark County School District, told State of Nevada that CCSD does offer what is known as 'option B' for lunch for students who are behind on payments. It is a hot grilled cheese sandwich, milk and vegetable sides. He did point out that option B is available for all students, which means no one really knows if the student has a negative balance or if they picked the grilled cheese.
"We do not turn away a kid, no matter what their balances are—we're still feeding those elementary students," he said.
Both directors admit is difficult to run a school food services program in the black. One of the ironies of the program is that when the economy improves and fewer kids need free lunch, food services receives lower reimbursements from the federal government.
"For us, when we're receiving the majority of reimbursement from those free and reduced kids, it makes you rethink your business strategy a lot more," Wines said.
Etchart also said that an improving economy in Reno has put pressure on his budget by tightening up the labor force.
Peter Etchart, Washoe County School District, Chief Operations Officer; David Wines, Clark County School District, Food Services Director
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