Last week, private donations, including one from the Oakland Raiders, helped save several Oakland school sports programs. This week, the Oakland Unified community is hoping someone steps up to save a critical meal program.
The cash-strapped district had to cut an after-school food service that fed 3,000 at-risk students.
On Tuesday, children at the Manzanita Community School were enjoying playtime, but many of them had not had a full meal since 12:30 p.m. The supper program used to feed those kids a hot meal, making sure they had something to eat before going to bed at night. But with that program now gone, the district can afford to give kids only a juice box and some chips.
"It’s very sad when they ask you, 'Why don’t I get lunch? Did I do something bad?'" said Karla Verde of Manzanita Community School.
It’s those tough questions Verde and other teachers have had to answer this school year after the Oakland Unified School District decided to cut the after-school supper program.
"Sometimes these kids go days where they don’t get a fresh meal or they go home and they don’t have anyone that’s there to cook a meal," Verde said.
District officials say budget cuts forced them to make the cut and cited the same funding issues that almost did away with 10 high school sports programs at the start of the school year. Without the after-school supper program and one full time staff position, the district is saving $1.4 million.
"It was not something we wanted to do," district spokesman John Sasaki said. "We know that our kids depend on this food. We know that our families depend on this food. But is it a matter of do we cut in the classroom, or do we cut a program like this?"
Verde said she’s already noticed the effect hunger is having on her students.
"They get very desperate, they get jumpy or they’re just cranky," she said. "Sometimes you can’t get kids to do anything when they’re hungry."
Verde is hoping someone or some company with the means is willing to help Oakland’s kids one more time.
"If we can do it for sports, why can’t we do it for food?" she said.
The district is working with outside partners to try to restart the food program, but Sasaki said it’s going to require help from the community.