Diverse City

November is just around the corner, and the chance to use the power of our vote is upon us. Election season can be stressful, what with wading through all the measures, trying to decipher ballot language and keeping up with the ads. But here’s one initiative that makes sense — Proposition FF — which will ensure all kids in Colorado schools have access to a fresh meal. (Side note: Harrison School District 2 is already doing this.)

According to the latest stats from Hunger Free Colorado, “more than 60,000 kids in Colorado can’t afford school meals, but don’t qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, and 2 out of every 5 Colorado families struggle to put food on the table for their children.” Often these are families just over the income threshold, making a couple of bucks more than the cutoff for a free meal. But they don’t make nearly enough money to adequately feed their families — not to mention those undocumented families who may be afraid to apply for services. And rising costs of just about everything mean many families have less to buy food. No child should experience the stigma of hunger. Every student should have the same opportunity to make it through their school day. These are the future thinkers, educators, legislators, laborers for Colorado; we should support them now.

School cafeterias run like a business; they are self-supporting (although not for profit), responsible for providing balanced meals, and they have to pay staff wages through an “even money” operation. This is incredibly challenging under the current model. And our current model is often why children receive “alternative” lunches or snacks from the teacher’s closet if they are unable to pay. 

But beyond feeding kids, which is wildly important for so many reasons, Prop FF will support frontline cafeteria workers by creating a long-term funding source by limiting state income tax deductions for the top 5 percent of Colorado earners. This is designed to support school cafeterias, to include facilitating scratch cooking and to bolster local food procurement. Perhaps this model could further engage children and provide educational opportunities about where food comes from and the impacts of long-term eating habits. No doubt the epidemic of childhood diabetes is connected to food insecurity. 

But don’t fret the price tag of Prop FF — it is a movement to bring your tax dollars back to Colorado. According to the Colorado Fiscal Institute, “Colorado’s existing school lunch program allows the vast majority of public money we set aside to feed kids to flow into the pockets of wealthy, out-of-state agribusiness corporations.” Outsourced meals like these cost less because the producers cut corners that include paying sub-par wages to agricultural workers. They also lead to less choice because of the complex farm-to-fork supply chain through which they travel. Prop FF would increase the value to Colorado taxpayers by reimbursing school districts for purchasing locally sourced food. School districts can also participate in a grant program that supports local food procurement. At home, Colorado farmers struggling to compete with out-of-state conglomerate agribusiness and this is an easy way to offer them support. 

This election season, Colorado voters have an unique opportunity to do something different: We can feed all children, and especially those most affected by food insecurity. You’ve likely already received your ballot — Prop FF: Healthy School Meals for All is on it. Vote YES!  

Disclosure: Patience Kabwasa is the executive director of Food to Power, a nonprofit with a mission to cultivate a more equitable food system in the greater Colorado Springs area. Food to Power is in favor of Prof FF. Kabwasa’s endorsement is hers alone and does not necessarily reflect the Indy’s position.