They’re not just “lunch ladies.” They are warriors on the front lines of a battle. And they’re fighting for our kids’ futures.
by Alexis Glick
This is a very personal, perhaps even an emotional dispatch, from close to the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic. But I know people count on me to be honest, and this is a very difficult time, one that demands honesty.
Those who have followed my op eds and blog posts the last two months know that the organization I lead is 100% focused at the moment on our COVID-19 Emergency School Nutrition Fund. GENYOUth’s fund is dedicated to raising monies to support school nutrition staff in schools across the country who are charged with feeding the 30 million U.S. children who rely on school meals daily.
School feeding during the shutdown has become a national emergency within an emergency. A crisis within a crisis.
And as I wrote in a recent article for Mika Brzezinski’s “Know Your Value” site on NBC News, that crisis remains, and is currently being efficiently managed by heroic school nutrition personnel, and cafeteria workers, in districts across America.
Readers, I’m exhausted, as I’m sure many of you are.
I have awakened every morning during the last several weeks with a knot in the pit of my stomach, wondering how we’re going to “close the gap” for these school nutrition workers. Here at GENYOUth, we have raised $5 million dollars from our generous supporters — both individual and corporate — in a very short time. But it’s not nearly enough.
At last count, we have requests for help from over 10,000 schools requesting over $30 million dollars in support. That’s what we call a shortfall.
But in the meantime, I think to myself, if I’m tired . . . how exhausted must our school nutrition workers feel, who are tirelessly working the front lines of our nation’s school-feeding emergency? And, more important, why wouldn’t they be?
Some districts are delivering meals to bus stops via school bus routes (that’s why you still see school buses in your town during the shutdown). Others are doing grab-and-go pickup of meals from school parking lots, or by activating summer feeding sites. Still others are home delivering a week’s worth of meals at a time. And it’s the women of district nutrition staffs — and let’s be clear, they’re mostly women — who are doing it all, including the heavy lifting.
In middle school parking lots, on rural school bus routes, dressed in sanitary gowns, face masks, and gloves, frequently risking their own health for children in need. Do they know how much we value them? How we admire their generosity? Do we realize that when families show up who technically aren’t entitled to a meal, our school nutrition workers courageously do the right thing and provide a meal to the parent, whom they frequently learn these days has been laid off, or furloughed without pay.
Compared with the conditions that school nutrition workers are dealing with on the front lines, most of us have it easy. Sure, we complain about being confined at home, or of not being able to enjoy a restaurant meal, or being denied access to the gym. However these complaints we have are petty and pale in comparison to the lifeline, safety-net, and guardian angels that school nutrition staff — often hidden in plain sight — represent at this moment in our shared history.
I, for one, know how hard their job is, and want them to know — I know. They may be voiceless, but my team and I hear their voices every day. It’s exactly why we are working so hard to raise the funds they need not for food — the U.S.D.A. covers that — but for transportation for food delivery, cold storage, sanitation equipment, single-serving containers, and the hundred-and-one expenses that are not budgeted as a result of this shutdown.
As I wrote in a memo to my Board of Directors yesterday, it breaks my heart to watch the coronavirus pandemic truly re-shaping the landscape between the haves and have-nots in our country. The chasm between well-fed children, and those deep into crisis around food insecurity, is widening daily.
That is not the country I grew up in, and it’s not the country I want my four children to come of age in. We cannot let this economic gap continue to widen, and we cannot let hungry children be the end result. In this time of uncertainty, one thing is for sure, we need to celebrate those valiant school nutrition personnel who are showing up daily to fight the fight.
As I’ve written elsewhere, these folks are doing nothing less than the equivalent of Red Cross-level crisis intervention. If the COVID-19 crisis has done anything good, it has made many of us realize that fact. As USA TODAY reported recently in an article entitled “Cafeteria Workers Risking Their Lives,” “For far too long, workers have not been recognized or adequately compensated for the vital role they play in feeding and caring for the nation’s children. The nation’s 420,000 cafeteria workers deserve to be able to support and protect themselves, and their families, during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.”
That article points out that the median hourly wage for these workers, who we regretfully sometimes refer to as “lunch ladies,” is $10.20 — and that “there are workers with years of on-the-job experience who still earn minimum wage.” And, in a final irony, these very workers have overnight been re-classified as “essential employees.”
Folks, today is the School Nutrition Association’s “School Lunch Hero Day,” showcasing — and honoring — the difference school nutrition professionals make for every child in our nation’s public schools. With this special day in mind, I’d like you to do me a favor and watch the 5-minute TED talk video at the link below, and which our wonderful colleagues at the School Nutrition Association feature on their website. It’s one of the most heartfelt tributes to any group of workers you will ever see — appropriate to this May 1, known not only as “School Lunch Hero Day” but also as International Workers Day.
When you’ve done so, I hope that you’ll be moved to consider joining in the tribute to those remarkable people by making a donation to GENYOUth’s COVID-19 School Emergency Nutrition Fund by visiting www.genyouthnow.org./donate or by texting SCHOOLS to 20222.
It would mean so much.
Alexis Glick is Chief Executive Officer of GENYOUth, a nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing child health and wellness through programs presented in partnership with the National Football League and the National Dairy Council. Glick also serves as a frequent contributor to many national and international news programs, providing her perspective on global business topics of importance, the financial markets and CEO leadership trends. Prior to GENYOUth’s inception, Glick helped launch Fox Business network, where she served as Vice President of Business News and anchored “Money for Breakfast.” Glick previously served as anchor on NBC’s Today Show and CNBC’s Squawk Box. In addition to her executive responsibilities at GENYOUth, and enjoying her active role as mom to four kids, Glick is active in several national and local non-profit institutions. She is a frequent, strategic advisor to CEOs for some of the largest international, blue-chip and Fortune 500 companies on issues relating to media strategy, business development, investor relations and communications and advises professional athletes on social media, branding and public speaking.