This summer, Chicago Public Schools took its school food program in an exciting new direction by nearly eliminating frozen, pre-plated meals from its lunchrooms. Yet, just two weeks before launching the program at the start of the school year, CPS also announced the layoff of 200 lunchroom workers. The results of a survey of 500 lunchroom workers show the impact these changes have had on students and lunchroom workers across the district..
“We have worked hard to get fresh food in the schools, but cooking food from scratch requires more workers, not fewer,” Linda Green, a lunchroom worker for over 20 years at CPS, said in August.
CPS lunchroom workers’ two-year “Let’s Cook” campaign helped usher in CPS’s renewed commitment to cooking fresh food, and 62% of respondents to a survey of over 500 lunchroom workers say their students like the food better this year compared to last. However, the presence of less lunchroom staff this year as compared to last has led to serious challenges to the execution of the fresh food program:
- 53% of respondents reported that the lines are longer for students this year compared to last year.
- Nearly 60% of respondents who regularly see students in line said that the last student receiving food on average has 15 minutes or less to eat before leaving the lunchroom. The USDA recommends that all students have at least 20 minutes of seated time to eat lunch.
- 59% of respondents said they had less time to clean the lunchroom this year compared to last year.
- 43% of respondents have gone an entire day without a break this school year. A further 25% of respondents have worked off the clock without pay.
CPS lunchroom workers take great pride in their jobs and the food they serve to Chicago’s children every day. Thursday afternoon, a group of workers are rallying in front of CPS Headquarters and calling on the district to address lunchroom staff shortages resulting from the layoffs. The event takes place on Food Day, a national day of action in support of sustainable and healthy food. More than 2,000 events are scheduled to take place across the country.
“We are doing whatever it takes to make sure our students get fed,” said Green. “But, this isn’t sustainable. We’re doing our best, but the bottom line is that we need more staff.”