The Problem with Three Day Weekends
by Rev. Rob Dyer
Three day weekends are the worst. On Tuesdays, when the kids return to school, many show up early, huddled at the school’s front door. We can’t let them in until 7:45am or 8:00am. I can’t remember the official school policy. I just open the doors at 7:45am on those special Tuesdays. I don’t care what the policy says.
The kids know they aren’t supposed to run, but they sure know how to do that speed-walk thing that is just below the threshold of breaking the rules. As they hurry down the main corridor, there is no doubt where they are headed … to the cafeteria. Our school district has qualified for a special grant where all the kids get their meals for free. Breakfast and lunch are offered to all. The after school kids get a snack too. We received this grant partially because over 80% of our students qualify for the free and reduced meal program. I suppose it costs more to do the accounting for the lunches than it does simply to give everyone a free meal.
The kids get in line and take generous helpings of all the sweet and heavy carb treats they are allowed. Nutritional discernment is not a gift that the average grade school kids possesses in my school, probably in any school. I stand at the doorway reminding those who exit to wash their hands and to walk directly to their classrooms after breakfast. I’m sure I miss the opportunity to remind a few because I can’t take my eyes off of these kids. So many are eating ravenously. French toast sticks are stuffed two or three at a time into their little mouths. It is as if they haven’t had a decent meal all weekend long. And then it hits me … surprises me … just like it does every three day weekend. It shouldn’t, but it does. It is the realization that many of these kids have not had a decent meal all weekend.
They are still young enough that there is no shame in their admissions. They will freely tell you the short list of what they had to eat over the weekend. They will tell you how much they love to come to school because they get to eat a whole lot of food here. Is it any wonder that we struggle to achieve mandated academic benchmarks while we have to battle the most basic of needs?
This is the kind of story that I heard time and time again from teachers when I asked them about the poverty situation in our small rural community. At the time, I was serving in a community that had gradually declined over the years. The poverty rate was rising and the homeless rate among our grade school students had reached a staggering 19%.
Through a partnership between the United Way, local churches, and several businesses, the Nutrition on Weekends (NOW) program was started. Every time there was a three day weekend, a bag of groceries was sent home with the students. Since most of those in need utilized the after school program, all of the children in that program received groceries on the day before a long weekend.
Each year, the United Way held an annual celebration dinner for their fundraising campaign and they asked attendees to consider sponsoring a weekend of groceries. Every year, the weekends were covered by generous donors. And each month, volunteers would gather and assemble the groceries in assembly line fashion.
Several months, I took my children with me to help assemble the bags. I told my kids where the bags were going. I explained that many of these kids did not get decent food over long weekends. It made my children sad, but it also made them feel great to be part of a solution to help other kids and their families.
I don’t know if you have hungry kids who come into school early after three day weekends, but I bet you do. If you don’t, I bet there is a neighboring school district that does. I wonder what would happen if you visited that school’s principal and asked, “Do you have any kids who could use some groceries over the long weekends?” I wonder what would happen if you told others in your faith community what the principal said when you asked that question. Maybe you could partner with local businesses or non-profits to help you feed your community’s neediest kids.
We need expressions of God in our schools. However, perhaps we should stop worrying about getting prayer in our schools and start worrying about getting acts of mercy into our schools. Perhaps the God that these kids need right now is the one who will feed them and care for them.
Rev. Rob Dyer is Senior Pastor at First United Presbyterian Church of Belleville, IL. Rob has spent the last several years working in the areas of community missions and lay leadership development. He has worked at both the local church levels as well at the regional level bringing churches, businesses, service agencies, and individuals together for addressing hunger and homeless issues. He has served on numerous community boards and participated in several church-community collaborations. Rob also produces a Christian leadership podcast called “God Complex Radio.”
Lenten Calendar for MARCH 10
Give a quarter for each meal eaten in a restaurant (or fast food) by a member of your household in the last week.
We need your stories!
We’re already looking ahead to the 40 Days for Food Justice Project for 2016 and we’re looking for more stories, experiences, prayers and resources about food justice and food injustice.
If you would like to contribute – or would like to recommend a contributor – please send us an email and let us know.
In addition to being the founder and editor-in-chief of the “40 Days for Food Justice Project”, the Rev. MargaretAnne Overstreet is a mom, a Presbyterian pastor, and a certified Health Coach. She does ministry with and among the good people of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Belleville, Illinois, where she gets her hands dirty in the community garden and, every Sunday, preaches with bare feet. She treasures family time, relishes every opportunity to teach and write about food justice, and loves to play outside with her dogs. Find out more about her at www.AnInBetweenPlace.com