Nearly a thousand students skipped school lunch at Roosevelt High School on the North Side Monday.
Their civics teacher Tim Meegan said that 143 boycotted on Thursday and 437 (more than a third of students) boycotted on Friday, according to lunch staff counts. Monday that number blew up to 952 (or more than 80 percent of students), Meegan said late Monday afternoon.
It was harder for the teacher to check progress Monday morning when I visited the school. That’s because he was outside with students unloading 10,000 bags of puffed rice granola donated by health group Mercola.com.
It joined a shipment of organic fruit and yogurt from Chicago’s Dill Pickle Co-Op.
“This way we’re well-stocked in case the kids need to continue the boycott,” Meegan said, carrying boxes from a massive white truck.
The boxes were going into the school to be handed out to boycotting students.
Meegan said that, in addition to the food donations, “We’ve gotten messages of support from teachers, students and administrators at different school districts, [and] food justice groups from all over the country.”
But the teacher and his students have also gotten push back. Last week CPS Nutrition Services head, Leslie Fowler, wrote to them asking for a meeting, but also implying that their boycott could cost the Roosevelt lunch staff pay.
“Lunchroom staff are paid on a sliding scale based on meals served,” confirmed CPS spokesperson Emily Bittner in an email to WBEZ, “and their pay will be reduced for the next school year if a large number of meals are lost.”
Louise Babbs who’s a lunch worker and organizer for the CPS lunch workers union, Unite Local One, however, sent this statement:
“CPS lunch ladies are paid by the hour, and our members will faithfully report to work regardless because the kids come first. We’ve been fighting for good fresh food for years, and we support any efforts on the part of students to do the same.”
WBEZ is continuing to investigate the question of commissions for lunch workers based on the number of meals taken.
Meegan accused the district’s food service company Aramark of trying undermine the boycott Friday by sending in premium produce.
“I came out here for my lunch 5th period and there was a [Anthony] Murano food company truck that delivered fresh produce to the cafeteria,” he said. “They had beautiful fresh fruits and vegetables from one of the premier produce distributors in Chicago. I only wish they would continue that effort, but instead they brought in that excellent food in order to dissuade kids from boycotting.”
The students took pictures of the truck and the produce it allegedly delivered to their cafeteria, and posted on their site here.
Aramark, however, said that it has never used Murano as a supplier and doesn’t know why the truck was spotted on Roosevelt property.
Late Monday, CPS sent a statement saying:
“CPS has a school lunch program that provides healthy, nutritious lunches at no cost to students throughout the district. Not only does CPS exceed federal nutrition guidelines, we also enjoy working with student and parent groups to test our meals and develop menus. CPS is happy to work with the students of Roosevelt to hear their concerns and address their needs, and look forward to meeting with them this week.”
Before I left the school on Monday, I noticed a few kids munching on the donated granola and asked how they liked it.
“Pretty good,” said Rudy Cavillo. “I think it’s pretty nice that they are actually giving students this food… Usually we just skip breakfast and lunch and just like starve to death and then go home and eat.”
Monica Eng is a food and health reporter for WBEZ. Follow her at @monicaeng or write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org