There are 400,000 children in Massachusetts in danger of losing critical access to free daily school meals. For many of these children, school breakfast and lunch are the only nutritious meals they receive all day. School meals have been the No. 1 food source for families in need during the pandemic, and continue to be the second-largest anti-hunger program in the country. 

Throughout the pandemic, federal USDA waivers have enabled Massachusetts to serve universal school meals, a resource that has been a lifeline for families living on the economic margins. However, Congress has failed to extend these waivers and this vital resource will expire in June unless Massachusetts steps in to provide support at the state level.

Jewish tradition explicitly commands us to feed the hungry. “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger” (Leviticus 19:9). The Torah teaches in Deuteronomy 15:7-10, “If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren…you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.” We are further commanded in Isaiah 58:7 to “share [our] bread with the hungry and bring the homeless into [our] house.” The rabbis go on to explain that feeding the hungry is one of our most important responsibilities. They teach, “When you are asked in the world to come, ‘What was your work?’ and you answer: ‘I fed the hungry,’ you will be told: ‘This is the gate of the Lord, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry'” (Midrash to Psalm 118:17). 

An “Act relative to universal school meals” (H.714 & S.314) is a bold legislative solution focused on providing equitable and quality meals to the state’s most vulnerable children. The federal pandemic waiver has allowed thousands of students in Massachusetts to eat a free school lunch daily. Right now, JALSA is working in partnership with the Feed Kids Coalition to make school meals for all a permanent and much-needed requirement in our state. 

It’s time to make the state house phones ring off the hook in support of extending school meals for all. Call your legislators and urge them to keep the program in place after federal waivers expire on June 30.

To find out more about the School Meals for All movement, you can view the recording of the coalition’s legislative briefing on Tuesday, March 15. Additionally, you can read WGBH’s coverage of the event.

If you want more information about this issue or want to work with JALSA on putting our Jewish values into action, contact JALSA legislative director David Albright at or 617-227-3000.

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