COLUMBUS, Ohio — In the wealthiest country on Earth, no child should go hungry is the sentiment that drives the mission behind “Hunger Free Schools Ohio.”

What You Need To Know

  • The Hunger-Free Schools Ohio Coalition is pushing for free lunches for all Ohio students

  • Students are dealing with food insecurity and can't afford school lunches

  • The Ohio Education Association believes having a nutritional meal is important because it helps them perform at their best in class

  • OEA is calling on lawmakers to approve funding for free lunches for students

The organization calls attention to one-in-five Ohio children being food insecure, meaning a household has limited or uncertain access to adequate food. The coalition said with the end of pandemic-era policies ensuring school meals, children are being deprived of the nutrition they need to thrive.

Alexander Locals Schools in Athens County is one district struggling with food insecurity. Its school lunch debt is twice what it was before the pandemic.  

“We already know there’s a lot of kids that can’t afford their lunches and they’re suffering for it,” said Daryn Guarino, Alexander Local Schools director of food and nutrition.

Guarino said he knows firsthand what it’s like to not be able to afford lunch. 

“When I was a young student myself, I suffered from the very same lack of food security. It made my day very terrible and having free school lunch mattered,” he said. “It really helped my day.” 

That’s why he and others within the school district are pushing for free lunches for all students who need it. He said students shouldn’t be turned away from lunch because they can’t afford it.

“You’re not going to be talking to an adult when you take a lunch away from someone,” he said. “You’re going to be talking to a seven-year-old, a six-year-old. It won’t feel as good as just take it away. They don’t deserve it. They do deserve it, and it’s not their fault.”

Students within the Alexander district aren’t the only ones suffering from food insecurity. Nearly 500,000 Ohio children suffer from food insecurity, according to the Ohio Education Association.

Not having nutritional meals is something OEA said affects how students perform in class, which is why OEA President Scott DiMauro is calling on lawmakers to help.

“We know that the federal government’s U.S. Department of Agriculture food program provides a significant amount of subsidies to school meal programs,” said DiMauro. “It’s the backbone of what our schools depend on. There’s a gap, and the state has the opportunity to fill this gap.”

The Hunger-Free Schools Ohio Coalition is looking to have every school district provide free lunch and breakfast to all students. It is estimated to cost more than $200 million to fund it, but the association and Guarino agree that it’s well worth it. 

“These students should have free meals, they should have school food, worrying about it should not be a part of their school day,” he said.