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Students Stigmatized by Free Lunches?

Carol Pogash of the New York Times reports that many students are avoiding free lunches rather than look “uncool”:

Ann Cooper, director of nutrition services for the public schools in Berkeley, Calif., said that attention to school cafeterias had traditionally focused on nutrition, but that the separation of students who pay and those who receive free meals was an important “social justice issue.”

“Fewer people know about it,” said Ms. Cooper, whose lunch program offers the same food to students who pay and those who have subsidized meals.

Many districts have a dual system … one line, in the cafeteria, for government-subsidized meals (also available to students who pay) and another line for mostly snacks and fast-food for students with cash, in another room, down the hall and around the corner. Most of the separation came into being in response to a federal requirement that food of minimal nutritional value not be sold in the same place as subsidized meals—which have to meet certain nutritional standards …

Mary Hill, president of the School Nutrition Association, a national group of school food providers, said students who receive free meals were “very sensitive” about being singled out.

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