I remember coming home from kindergarten one day, all excited. “Dad!” I said.
“We can get free lunch at school!”
“Yeah! A bunch of the kids get free lunch! They don’t have to PAY!” I couldn’t believe that you could go through the lunch line and not have to give the lady a nickel for your milk and fifteen cents for your lunch plate.
“That’s great,” Dad said, not especially excited.
“Can we get free lunches, too?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
“Because,” he said slowly, looking at me. “We don’t need them. Other people do.”
Lunch and recess
I started school at Booker T. Washington Elementary in Galveston, in 1968, the first year that the schools on the island desegregated, fourteen long fucking years after it was ordered by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education. The best two parts of the day were morning snack, recess, and lunch.
The cafeteria was always open an hour before school started and you could go in, pay a nickel, and get chocolate milk. For another nickel you could get a mini-box of corn flakes. I had breakfast at home but loved the chocolate milk and if I had an extra nickel I’d make sure to buy some.
There were always kids who got to the the cafeteria in the morning as soon as it opened, and who would eat two or three mini-boxes of cereal before joining the rest of us outside as we played four-square, hopskotch, basketball, or covered ourselves in dirt and sand in the long jump pit. In fact at Booker T., most of the kids cycled through the cafeteria before class started, at least to get a free carton of milk.
It wasn’t until many years later that I realized those kids were in the cafeteria early because for many of them it was the last meal they would see until nightfall. Maybe for a handful, those two bowls of corn flakes were their meal for the day.
As a grown man with grandchildren, the world can sometimes seem complex. But here’s something simple: If one out of every six children is hungry, you have failed as a nation.
Chefs cycle, chefscycle
A peculiar aspect of grand fondues is that they often link up with charities, encouraging donations and giving a percentage of their proceeds to a cause. For four years I was vaguely aware of the charity recipient at Phil’s Cookie Fondo, ChefsCycle. It’s a group that raises money on the bike and donates it to No Kid Hungry, which in turn is a group that lobbies for school breakfast/lunch funding and puts money directly into schools to allow them to feed kids for free.
The idea that we have a Congress where free food for kids is an issue that requires lobbying is mind-boggling until you consider that our nation also builds and maintains concentration camps for immigrant children. It’s a tiny jump from the one to the other, yo. The idea that the weakest and smallest among us need advocates, rather than the idea that every human being is OF COURSE an advocate for children, is unfortunate and true.
Since 2015, ChefsCycle has raised $6M for No Kid Hungry, and they have done it through a simple concept formulated by chefs Allan Ng and Jason Roberts: “How can we get out of the kitchen, onto our bikes, and do something that puts food in the bellies of hungry kids?”
Now that I am old and going very gray, I am reaping my reward. It is not financial. It is not material, as anyone who has analyzed my wardrobe and Timex watch knows. Nor is it spiritual, as Dog hasn’t spoken to me with any more clarity today than he did when I was three.
No, my reward for raising a family is this: I get to see my son-in-law mush up a very ripe banana with his thumb and carefully feed it to my 6-month-old grandson. My reward is the smile and eager smacking, and the bits of drool and banana that spill out from his tiny mouth as he happily and with pure pleasure defeats for a few hours the hunger that is within us all.
His small reward of a mushy banana is my reward. You can make it your reward, too, in some classroom, in the stomach of some little kid who you will never even know.
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