A friend told an inspiring story recently about her reaction to transit police harassing a 15-year-old black boy on Seattle’s light rail. The officer would not let anyone nearby pay his $2.50 fee, though many offered, and instead called the sheriff.
My friend moved eventually and stood between the officer and the boy he was trying to intimidate, and she ended up being one of two adults -- two strangers -- who stayed and waited with the boy until the sheriff arrived.
They physically intervened on a potentially dangerous situation, even though it was inconvenient and a little scary -- my friend even had her young son with her.
They were paying attention and willing to go out on a limb.
Jeff Lew is a parent in Seattle and a graduate of Seattle Public Schools. He found out about this phenomenon of school lunch debt and the corresponding “lunch shaming” and decided to take action locally. He set up a GoFundMe page to first cover the lunch debt at his son’s school ($97.10), then the school lunch debt for all of Seattle Public Schools.
In Seattle, about 3,700 students now owe the $21,468 for school meals. The majority are families who don’t qualify for the federal free- or reduced-price lunch program, said district spokesman Luke Duecy. Breakfast and lunch prices range from $2 to $3.25.
Once a student owes $15 or more, schools have the option of providing the modified meals, although some just give the full meal anyway.
‘Our policy is kids don’t go without a breakfast or lunch if they don’t have money at the time,’ Duecy said. ‘We feed them. We never shame any child like other districts might do.’
In the past, other Puget Sound school districts have been accused of lunch-shaming. In 2014, a Kent middle-school student’s lunch was taken from him and thrown out because his lunch account was 26 cents short. The district later apologized. For two weeks in 2008, the Edmonds School District took away hot lunches from students who owed $10 or more before the district suspended the policy.
In Seattle, Lew wanted to make sure all students get an equal lunch after reading stories about more recent — and more extreme — examples of lunch-shaming outside Washington.
Lew saw a problem, and he found a way to be of service.
Let him be an example we keep in mind. We’ve got no shortage of problems, it seems. It’s easy to get overwhelmed. Let’s remember these inequitable systems are manifested on individual, person-to-person levels every day. Just as we need to be advocating for systemic change, we can be on the lookout for ways to intervene on inequity as it presents itself in person as well.