Oregon close to banning 'lunch shaming' in schools

Children enjoy free lunches provided by Portland Parks and Recreation in Alberta Park on Wednesday. (KATU Photo)

Summers are meant to be fun and carefree for many families with children out of school. For others, it's a means to their next meal.

Selena Coile and her daughter Mackenzie go to Alberta Park every day to take advantage of the free lunches provided by Portland Parks and Recreation.

“I'm a single parent of two kids, and so two have lunches taken care of saves a tremendous amount of money,” said Coile.

The healthy meals consist of a sandwich, a fruit and milk for families who can't always afford them. It can be especially difficult during the school year.

“It can be a financial burden, but you do what you have to do to feed the kids,” said Coile.

More than 50,000 families in Portland carry the same burden. Isaac Taylor says his friends in the third grade don't even get full meals every day.

“They have to pack lunches every day, and they only have one thing, and they only have cantaloupe in their lunch,” said Taylor.

He says they often get teased, but House Bill 3454 will ban lunch shaming in all Oregon schools.

Lawmakers approved the bill during this year's legislative session. If signed into law by Gov. Kate Brown, school lunches will be provided for any student regardless of their family's ability to pay for a meal.

The bill will also not require a student to throw away a meal after it has been served because he or she can’t pay for the meal or because money is owed.

Something Sean Sexton wishes was in effect while he was growing up in Portland.

“I came from the poor end of things. Some of the kids had really wealthy families, so there's an intimidation factor there whether you get teased or not,” said Sexton.

He didn't want another child to be embarrassed, so he started a GoFundMe page while he was undergoing cancer treatment. He raised nearly $30,000 earlier this year to help erase lunch debt in Portland Public Schools.

“To say that a child should be singled out or he shouldn't eat or she shouldn't eat, to me that's the most wrong things ever,” he said.

It’s unclear when Brown will sign the bill. The Free Lunch and Play program is offered until Aug. 25.

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