Public schools in the district around Ferguson, MO were supposed to open on August 14, but they stayed closed and won’t open until Monday, August 25 at the earliest because of the continued protests against the killing of an unarmed black teenager by a white cop.
That means that the low-income students who rely on reduced-price or free lunches, 68 percent of the Ferguson-Florissant student body, aren’t getting that service and their families may be struggling to feed them.
But in the midst of the violence and unrest came a glimmer of good news: a teacher from North Carolina has raised more than $100,000 for the St. Louis Area Foodbank to feed children in the area. The original goal was $80,000.
The fund had topped $120,000 as of Wednesday morning, with donations from more than 4,000 supporters. It raised more than $30,000 in its first day. The teacher at the helm of the effort, Julianna Mendelsohn, wrote on a blog detailing the progress of the campaign, “We’ve blown past every fundraising goal set for this campaign, and the generosity keeps pouring in.”
On the fundraising page, she described why she began the campaign. “As a public school teacher, my first thought is always about the children involved in any tragic situation like this,” she writes. “When I found out school had been canceled for several days as a result of the civil unrest, I immediately became worried for the students in households with food instability. Many children in the US eat their only meals of the day, breakfast and lunch, at school. With school out, kids are undoubtedly going hungry.”
The Riverview Gardens School District is also trying to help students eat. It handed out free breakfast and lunch at three schools on Tuesday, with plans to continue through the week. Teachers have also given parents a place to bring their children at the Ferguson Public Library, holding signs outside saying “School Closed, Bring Your Students Here” and offering activities to dozens of children whose parents may have no where else to bring them while they work.
Hunger is a problem with any school disruption, including snow days. The summer vacation can be a particularly difficult time for low-income families, and while Summer Nutrition Programs provide lunch to about 3 million children each day, they still fail to reach 85 percent of those who rely on school meals. Even during the regular school year, three-quarters of the country’s teachers say students regularly show up to the classroom hungry.