‘Some parents can’t feed their kids right now.’ Teacher says school food programs are crucial

Waivers for free food at schools in San Antonio will end soon, causing stress for families, schools

Waivers for free lunches at schools will expire June 30, and that means families will have to apply for free or reduced meals on their own.

WINDCREST, Texas – Skyrocketing food and gas prices are financially crushing families already struggling from the pandemic. Many of them are having to choose between getting gas to go to work or buying food.

That’s why school food programs are crucial, with 1 in 4 children experiencing hunger in Texas.

The school cafeteria is more than a place to eat. It’s a safe haven for many hungry children in our community.

“We’re noticing an influx of our kids coming in hungry. So, sometimes they get hangry in the classroom. Sometimes their lunch is all they’re going to get for the rest of the day. So, it’s really important because some of the parents can’t feed their kids right now,” said Jaclyn Migues, a second-grade teacher at Windcrest Elementary, where she also has a daughter in kindergarten.

Migues has seen the effects of the pandemic on families, and she’s not the only one worried about the fallout from recent food and gas price hikes.

“Students receive breakfast in the classroom, as well as lunch, after-school meals, supper,” said Stacie Sanchez, director of No Kid Hungry Texas. The organization addresses child hunger throughout the state, making grants for school districts and food banks, advocating for funding and public understanding of hunger, as well as identifying and enrolling families in nutrition programs.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, there’s been many waivers and flexibilities that have been granted,” Sanchez said.

She said all kids are receiving free lunches at schools like Windcrest, but those waivers expire June 30. Starting next year, families will have to apply for free or reduced meals on their own. There are several requirements families have to meet to receive the aid.

Sanchez worries with a lingering pandemic, food and gas hikes and supply chain issues, many parents still won’t be able to afford meal plans, even at reduced rates.

“So we really need that flexibility from those waivers that only Congress can extend to USDA,” Sanchez said.

No Kid Hungry Texas is involved in the outreach to politicians to push that extension.

The price hike and supply chain issues are hitting the schools really hard as well.

Sanchez said schools order about 40 items at a time. Pre-pandemic, maybe three of those wouldn’t show up. Now it can be about half that are not available.

“They’re not getting all the food that they need. It’s at a higher price and they’re having to do a lot more with a lot less,” Sanchez said.

Migues keeps a basket of snacks in her classroom at all times in case her students need them.

“I just try my best to support that and to make sure that they know that they are fed and that they are loved here,” she said.

Migues hopes schools will be able to continue that same level of support into next school year.

As the mom of a student, she would love for the free meals to continue, but knows for other families, it’s an absolute necessity.

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About the Authors:

Courtney Friedman is a KSAT anchor and reporter. She has an ongoing series called Loving in Fear, confronting Bexar County’s domestic violence epidemic. She's also covered Hurricane Harvey, the shootings in Sutherland Springs and Santa Fe, and tornadoes throughout Texas. She’s a California native and proud Longhorn who loves calling SA home.

Sal Salazar is a photojournalist at KSAT 12. Before coming to KSAT in 1998, he worked at the Fox affiliate in San Antonio. Sal started off his career back in 1995 for the ABC Affiliate in Lubbock and has covered many high-profile news events since. In his free time, he enjoys spending time at home, gaming and loves traveling with his wife.