While negotiations continue between striking teachers and the Tacoma School District, others are trying to fill the gap created by the cancellation of classes. Tacoma is one of the poorest districts in the state with roughly 60-percent of its students, about 18,000 kids, qualifying for free/reduced meals.
Today the lack of those free meals turned violent when a man showed up at the picket lines outside Stewart Middle School and started elbowing striking teachers. The man, who identified himself as the grandfather of a Tacoma student, said his grandson is going hungry because of the strike. One teacher had to be hospitalized.
St. Leo's Food Bank normally provides weekly backpacks filled with two days of food to more than 400 students from 14 different Tacoma schools. During the strike, those kids are not getting their regular breakfasts or lunches - or the backpacks. In an effort to fill the gap, St Leo's is hoping to put together boxes of food for delivery to students during the walk-out.
The backpacks normally contain 6 kid-friendly meals designed to last the child through the weekend. The backpacks include fresh fruit and vegetables.
Studies have shown hungry kids suffer from a variety of health problems ranging from fatigue to frequent colds. When school is in session, students who are hungry are less able to concentrate - which in turn impacts their student achievement.
Tomorrow, Wednesday September 21st, workers at St. Leo's will be making sandwiches for distribution later in the week. Donations are still being accepted for inclusion in the strike backpacks. You can find a list of acceptable items on St. Leo's website.
In the meantime, the school district is donating perishable food that normally would have been used for breakfasts and lunches to the Emergency Food Network. More than a dozen pallets of lettuce, strawberries, carrots and kiwi were loaded up and given to the Pierce County food bank yesterday. TPS spokesman Dan Voelpel says the district has been able to reduce their food orders during the strike, but says they still have to keep some perishables on hand in the event the strike is settled.
Food service workers who would normally be making breakfasts and lunches for the kids are among those not working this week. they, along with nearly 700 other non-certificated staff, are not getting paid during the teacher walk-out. It is unclear if they are eligible for unemployment.
Ironically, today is payday for striking teachers. They will be picking up a full check, since the pay period covers those days the teachers worked before the strike started.