With ASB’s upcoming Thanksgiving food drive, students are reminded of the issue of hunger at Los Altos. For many students, hunger is a constant reality, affecting almost every aspect of their lives throughout the year.
“There are certain students who really don’t have money to be able to buy breakfast,” English teacher Jonathan Kwan said. “Some students are on free and [price]-reduced lunch… [and] some people don’t eat because they don’t like the food in the cafeteria. So, it’s kind of a multitude [of issues].”
Hunger manifests itself in a variety of ways, leaving many students with a partial or overgeneralized view of the multifaceted situation.
“The closer you are to the issue, the more real understanding you have of the issue,” Kwan said. “Yes, it’s good to help people who are hungry by going through your cabinets and giving it to an organization. But unless you’ve volunteered at a soup kitchen, unless you’ve personally interacted with somebody who is hungry, [you] do not really understand the emotional feeling that that elicits, which can oftentimes lead to misperceptions.”
The school does offer a free or price-reduced lunch program for students who qualify under certain federal guidelines based on family income and the number of people in the household. For students like senior Yesenia Gutierrez, this program provides tangible benefits.
“It definitely helps [that] students know that, ‘Okay, I’ll have lunch if my parents cannot afford it. I can go to the cafeteria and get a meal,” Yesenia said. “The money [adds up] if you buy lunch every single day… I think the fact that they have this program definitely helps students that are from low-income families, because there are so many stresses and financial situations, and the fact that we have this program helps out.”
The problem remains, however, that many students in need are not aware of available resources, and students who are qualified and registered on the free and price-reduced lunch program may still choose not to make use of it.
“Sometimes kids are not taking advantage of the resources or just are used to not eating,” counselor Jacob Larin said. “I do think there is a serious issue with hunger on our campus. And that’s a cause of concern for me for overall health [and stress] on our campus.”
Students may feel reluctant to publicize their struggles, which becomes a problem when they refuse to ask for help even when it is available.
“A lot of people don’t talk about [free and reduced lunch] because they feel kind of ashamed, especially in this area where everyone is so affluent,” junior Rashin Sayed said. “It’s kind of like, ‘Do I really want to embarrass myself like that?’”
To help the school allocate its resources more effectively, counselor Ariel Rojas suggests that students refer those in need to the administration.
“Sometimes, students don’t say anything because they feel like, ‘My friend wouldn’t want me to,’” Rojas said. “But if you see your friend in trouble, you need to try to figure out how to do something without hurting them or without making them embarrassed. We want people to help us and to have a [community] where people can belong.”
It is imperative that those who need food are aware of and are not ashamed to utilize school resources. As a school community, it is important that we acknowledge the issues that the school faces. While the school likely does not want to perpetuate stigmas surrounding hunger, student awareness of the issue through discussion and interaction is a necessary first step.
“This is everybody’s problem,” Rojas said. “More than anything, it’s about creating a community where we can all help each other out.”