Students react to Palo Alto High School’s free lunch program

Jeffrey Tu and Neil Rathi

Over 200 students at Palo Alto High School are eating free lunch offered by the school on a daily basis, according to food service assistant Rosa Lopez.

Senior Kabir Bhatia receives free lunch at the Student Center on Monday. (Photo: Neil Rathi)

Funding for the lunches is being provided by the State of California, which decided in July to provide free lunch to all of its public school students.

Some Paly students approved of Paly’s provided free lunches, including sophomore Hari Ramakrishnan, who called the lunches “moderately healthy.”

Freshman Ethan Haemer said that one reason why he chose to get free lunch was because there was more variety compared to eating from home.

Superintendent Don Austin told The Paly Voice late last month that the free school lunches meet nutritional requirements and that the district will likely make no effort to improve the quality of these lunches.

“Healthy means it meets minimum standards that are predetermined by the organizations that govern food quality,” Austin said. “It does not mean it’s something you’re going to go necessarily buy on your own, because you think it’s awesome.”

Some students have also complained about the length of lines with the new system.

“If you’re even two minutes late, the line is so long, and all the good food is gone,” freshman Divij Motwani said.

Lopez also said long lines were an issue at the start of the year, but added that the lunch staff had resolved the issue.

“When we first started, we had no idea how much to prepare,” she said. “The first week, it was insanely long lines and we ran out of food.”

Students line up to receive free lunch from the cafeteria in the Student Center at Palo Alto High School. The Palo Alto Unified School District has been offering lunch for free to students due to a requirement from the state government. Freshman Divij Motwani, who eats free lunch on a daily basis, said the option helps those in need. “It [free lunch] wouldn’t really have changed [things] to me, but I think it’s good for everyone else, especially because there’s some people who can’t afford lunch,” Motwani said. (Photo: Neil Rathi)

Lopez said that in some cases, the lunch staff had to feed students food that they conveniently had in the fridge because they ran out of the meals they had planned on serving.

However, she said that recently the lines have decreased. The lunch staff have learned that there are over 200 students who pick up lunch every day, so they prepare about 300 meals.

“Nowadays, we’re more prepared, we have an idea of how many students are eating,” she said. “You still see a long line, but it only lasts for like 15 minutes. To me, it’s not a problem anymore.”

Austin said that the free lunch program will continue as long as the California government provides funding for it. However, he said he was not confident that the program would last, saying that the policy was enacted in part because of the recent recall election for California governor Gavin Newsom.

“He [Gov. Gavin Newsom] is passing that money out like candy, trying to make everybody happy right now,” Austin said. “So that’s not sustainable. The influx of dollars will come to an end.”

Austin said eventually when the state surplus of funds runs out, the school district will decide whether to fund it through the district.

“We can [fund the lunch program], it will just have to result in an equal reduction in funding somewhere else,” Austin said. “But we could do it, so that would be an interesting conversation as we get down the road a little bit.”