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Lawmaker announces donation page to address “lunch shaming”

Rep. Helen Giddings announced the launch of a donation page that allows the public to contribute money to clear the debt of schools that feed schoolchildren when their lunch accounts are empty.

State Rep. Helen Giddings, D-De Soto, speaks during a press conference regarding the "lunch shaming" bill on May 23, 2017.

Following what she called an outpouring of support from fellow House members and the public, state Rep. Helen Giddings announced an initiative Tuesday to help revive her “lunch shaming” bill that has repeatedly been shot down by the House Freedom Caucus.

Giddings, D-DeSoto, said she's working with Feeding Texas, a statewide association of food banks that serves more than 3.5 million Texans, to launch a donation page that would help address lunch shaming in schools. The website allows the public to contribute money that will go toward reimbursing schools that feed students whose lunch accounts are empty.

According to the donation page website, the money will be distributed at the end of each school year to schools that have incurred significant debt while “preserving the privacy and dignity of students in need.”

“All of us here are concerned about the cruelty and lack of compassion for children who suffer the humiliation, labeling and the hunger pains of so-called lunch shaming,” Giddings said Tuesday. “I was shocked and horrified when I realized this inhumane practice was real.”

Her announcement comes after the Texas House failed to pass House Bill 2159, Giddings' effort to ban school districts from publicly identifying students without enough money in their school lunch accounts. It also sought to allow families a grace period to resolve an insufficient balance on a meal card.

"One of the spinoffs of this effort is a heightened awareness of the issue of child hunger in Texas," Giddings said. "As much as we are a very wealthy state, there’s a lot of poverty and there’s a lot of child hunger. We ought not let this go on in our schools."

During Tuesday’s press conference, Feeding Texas CEO Celia Cole said she hoped to marry the outpouring of private support and public donations to end lunch shaming in Texas.

“We hope to use these donations to work with schools to adopt the policies in HB 2159 to make sure no child goes hungry when their lunch account goes below zero,” Cole said.

Though Giddings’ original bill was knocked off the calendar, a version of it was revived Saturday and passed by the House as an amendment to a similar bill, Senate Bill 725.

The amendment, introduced by the bill's House sponsor, Rep. Diego Bernal, D-San Antonio, was based on Giddings' bill and would allow districts to give meals to students without money in their school lunch accounts — and also give students a grace period to resolve insufficient balances. But it wouldn’t require it, as Giddings' original bill did.

SB 725, which would let school districts offer uneaten or donated food to a nonprofit to give to hungry students, passed 133-0 and now heads back to the Senate, where the upper chamber will decide whether to accept the amendment.

Bernal re-emphasized Tuesday that the amendment didn’t come close to implementing Giddings' original bill.

“I want to be clear that the amendment to our bill does its best to capture the spirit of what she was trying to do, but in no way does it check every box,” Bernal said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • After being denied by the House Freedom Caucus multiple times, a measure to let schools give meals to students without money in their accounts was revived as an amendment to another bill.
  • Rep. Helen Giddings had her bill shot down three times before a watered-down version of the legislation passed as an amendment to a similar bill on Saturday.
  • Giddings gave an impassioned speech about the issue earlier this month after House Republicans killed her legislation.

Disclosure: Feeding Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors is available here.

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