Kids, Parents, Child Advocates Push for No-Cost School Lunches in PA

Pennsylvania currently provides no-cost school breakfast to all K-12 students. But when it comes to lunch, many students are left to fend for themselves.

Dozens of representatives from anti-hunger groups, child nutrition programs, school leadership organizations, childhood health and education groups, along with kids and their parents, rallied in Harrisburg to ask why the state provides one meal but not the other.

“I wish every student in every school was able to eat a healthy meal at every meal,” said Ryan Sundberg, a second grader at Chadds Ford Elementary in the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, Chester County. Her sister, Chase, a kindergartener in the same district, joined her at the Capitol.

Advocates are calling attention to the importance of ensuring equal access to nutritious meals for all students and urging lawmakers and the administration to include funding in the 2024-25 state budget to expand no-cost school breakfast to include lunch.

The families and advocates were joined by state Rep. Emily Kinkead (D-Allegheny) and state Sen. Lindsey M. Williams (D-Allegheny), who have introduced the “No Student Should Go Hungry Universal School Meals” legislation in the House (HB 2829) and Senate (SB 1327).

“Hungry kids can’t learn,” said Nicole Melia, food service supervisor of the Great Valley School District in Malvern, Chester County, and the public policy and legislative chair for the School Nutrition Association of PA (SNAPA). “School meals are as essential to education as technology, transportation, and textbooks.”

School meals reduce childhood hunger; decrease childhood weight issues and obesity; improve child nutrition and wellness; enhance child development and school readiness; support learning, attendance, and behavior; and contribute to positive mental health outcomes.

According to statewide polling, eight in 10 voters support expanding no-cost school breakfast to include lunch in K-12. Pennsylvanians of all ages and political persuasions, in all parts of the state, want to connect kids to healthy foods so they can grow and thrive.

“Nutritious meals fuel student learning and well-being. All students deserve equal access to both quality education and delicious, healthy food,” said Dani Ruhf, founder and CEO of Child Hunger Outreach Partners (CHOP Out Hunger), which helps to stock food pantries in schools and pack backpacks for kids to take home.

One of eight kids goes hungry every day in Pennsylvania. In rural areas, as many as one in five kids experience hunger. School meals for all can help.

“School meals go beyond mere sustenance; it’s fundamental to addressing societal inequities,” Share Food Program Executive Director George Matysik said. “For many children, these meals aren’t just about filling their stomachs; they’re about filling the gap in opportunities, no matter where you live or where you go to school.”