Progress for School Meals in North Carolina

Lauren Banister
December 20, 2023

Pirkei Avot 3:21 teaches us, “Im ein kemach, ein Torah; im ein Torah, ein kemach” — “Without bread there is no Torah; without Torah, there is no bread.” Here, in our Rabbinic code of ethics, we learn that above all else — before we can nourish our minds and souls, before we can pursue an ethical and moral life, and before we can seek knowledge or contribute to society, we must feed our bodies.

Yet, today, millions of Americans around the country are facing food insecurity. For children, this can stunt their opportunity to grow and prosper. For nearly 40 years, MAZON has been working to advance policies that end hunger — part of this includes equipping and empowering our Jewish community networks to fight hunger in their own states. To this end, MAZON was proud to join the School Meals for all NC coalition at the beginning of this year and to engage the North Carolina Jewish community in expanding access to school meals in the state. 

Thanks in no small part to the work of MAZON’s dedicated partners and the broader coalition, the North Carolina legislature passed a budget that takes three important steps forward in giving more children access to no-cost meals during the school day:

  • Allowing all students who qualify for reduced-price meals to permanently receive free breakfast and lunch at school;
  • Enabling schools with high rates of poverty to provide free meals to all their students; and
  • Prohibiting schools from withholding student records or keeping students from participating in graduation due to outstanding school meal debt.

MAZON has a long history of working to expand access to school meals across the country. We surfaced and advocated against “lunch shaming” in schools in various states — this occurs when students are unable to pay for school meals and are denied food. It is clear that free school meals for all students can eliminate this stigma, provide fair and equitable access to nutrition support, and ensure our federal safety net reaches all children in need with dignity. 

This past year, MAZON’s volunteers in North Carolina were persistent in building towards victory in their state, including:

  • Sending letters to their lawmakers; 
  • Writing Op-Eds and Letters to the Editor;
  • Educating their congregations about child hunger; and
  • Recruiting congregations and organizations to join the statewide coalition. 

Terri Berndt, a MAZON volunteer, shared in her letter to the Asheville Citizen-Times, “As a retired teacher assistant with the NC public school system, I have experienced the difficulties and struggles of hungry children. Their lives are complicated by the absence of regular meals and the constant worry about food. This is never the environment conducive to learning, behaving, or developing successfully.”

North Carolina has taken an important step towards ensuring that all children can learn and thrive. While we celebrate this progress, we remain deeply concerned about food insecurity among children in the state — and nationwide. 

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), school meals make students more attentive and engaged in the classroom, and improve health outcomes. Regardless of a person’s circumstance, no one deserves hunger. With the tireless advocacy of MAZON’s Jewish community and our advocacy partners, we know that we are on the road to creating a future where all students have the opportunity to thrive in school. 

Interested in getting involved in our fight for school meals for all in North Carolina or a campaign in your state? Reach out to our organizer, Lauren Banister.