According to California Food Policy Advocates, two million California children live in low-income households that struggle to put food on the table. In addition to the physical, social and emotional consequences of food insecurity and poor nutrition, a Cornell University study of 21,000 students demonstrated that students with food insecurity show smaller gains in reading and math, miss school more frequently, and are less likely to graduate from high school when compared to their food-secure peers.
Although UUSD has long provided free and reduced-cost meals for qualified students, the social stigma of accepting these meals prevented some students from taking advantage of the program. In 2017, Senator McGuire’s Senate bill, SB 138, paved the way for universal school meal service by providing funding for districts like UUSD to provide more free meals.
The bill developed a universal enrollment process whereby California school districts use Medi-Cal data to seamlessly enroll all income-eligible students in free and reduced-cost school meals. With accurate income data, UUSD also qualified for a federal program that covers the cost of providing free meals for all students.
California school districts with poverty rates higher than 62.5 percent can adopt federal school meal provisions that provide breakfast and lunch at no cost to all students, income-eligible or not. UUSD initiated this program for the 2018-19 school-year and has served 150,000 more breakfasts and 100,000 more lunches than it did the previous year.
“When a child goes to school hungry, their ability to learn, grow and thrive is compromised. School meals are extremely effective at fighting the devastating effects of child hunger and improving outcomes in our public schools,” Senator McGuire said.
UUSD feeds students every weekday and prepares special meals for the holidays. On the Friday before Thanksgiving, UUSD served students more than 800 pounds of turkey, 500 pounds of mashed potatoes, and more than 30 gallons of gravy.
UUSD Superintendent Deb Kubin said, “We are grateful to Senator McGuire for helping to assure that all students have access to good nutrition so they can reach their potential. I am also deeply grateful to our Food Service employees who not only make food for our local students but many of them connect with students and serve as another safe and trustworthy adult for students to depend on.”