Written By: Brooke Killgore

It’s no surprise that the pandemic has brought several changes to the way we live and the simple tasks we perform on a daily basis. For Las Lomas, our routines followed the previous year’s block schedule with brunch and lunch sprinkled in between, giving students a period of time to meet with friends and enjoy their food. The school offered lunches through a payment system (incorporating those who might have struggled to afford it every day). If that wasn’t satisfying enough, the vending machines were placed around campus to offer students a more subtle snack to keep them satisfied. Yet as we were thrusted into online school, these food services began to change. Thanks to the recent “Free School Meals For All Act of 2021”, all Las Lomas students were given free school meals regardless of income. The vending machines, as well, seemed to upgrade their snack selections and appeal more to the student body with treats and chips we would hopefully enjoy. Though it was set to bring forward a focus of equity to the student body, many students believe that the lunch lines and the vending machines have become more of a luxury rather than a gift. Long wait times to even receive food made racing to lunch a norm and the vending machines only accept card or Apple Pay options, holding those without those forms of payment upset and questioning the need for them. To gather opinions and research, I sent out a survey to the Las Lomas community, inviting them to put down their own experiences and even possible solutions to their view of these problems.

Undoubtedly, students have been noticing changes that affect their capability to get school lunches because of the cafeteria line. Junior Ana Vázquez commented, “I think the Las Lomas cafeteria line is absolutely ridiculous. It should not be something that should happen in a school. I think the fact they made school lunch free is amazing. It does help people who have a harder time with food at home. But with the situation as of right now, the people who need food are oftentimes not able to get it because of the insane lines. I think in our work to try to make food accessible, we have made it inaccessible and possibly made our school more inequitable.” As a student who gets lunch every day from the cafeteria, I can share my own experiences of students pushing others up against walls and excessive cutting to get to the front.  It’s hard to feel at ease in the line because I’m constantly trying to hold my position to get food that should be accessible to everyone. Sophomore Sarah Hansen said that, “I understand that there is only so much that can be done to help with the situation, but more staffing would fix a lot of problems since it moves so slowly and I sometimes have to choose between eating and getting to class on time…the other challenge [for the school] is keeping the students’ lines organized.”” Hansen further explained that she is hopeful that the cafeteria staff is working hard to fix this problem.

The cafeteria lines aren’t the only change that students are noticing. The vending machines, which only take debit cards, credit cards or mobile payment, affect those who only carry cash. In the same  school-wide survey, 61.4% of student responses think that the card-only method negatively affects them, while 38.6% believe it does not. Senior Ayden Stevens, who mentioned that the card payment does not affect him, said, “They serve their purpose. [The vending machines are] quick, fairly cheap and [are] readily available snacks. I don’t really use them but more variety can never hurt.” However, other students see this issue  differently, including senior Sydney Ruzicka, who explained that, “I haven’t used them because I don’t have access to anything other than cash . . . If the vending machines took cash like they did several years ago, I would be able to get snacks at brunch or during passing, but now I go to my next class hungry which affects how well I can pay attention.” I am also a frequent customer of the vending machines, especially if I am left with limited options for brunch and lunch. While I do have Apple Pay, I have encountered several kids who only carry a limited amount of cash and struggle to buy something. It’s hard to understand why the district cannot provide another method for students in this position, especially since pricing is already so high in the machines. Sophomore Lucy Dell expressed her concern with this, stating, “I think [the vending machines]  are a rip-off. It’s a great idea to have vending machines at the school for the kids who forgot snacks, but everything is so overpriced and the fact that you can only use a credit card is silly” But the school cannot make changes immediately as the vending machines are currently district-owned.

But there is hope for change. In a Knights News Weekly newsletter, sent out by principal Sara Harris on October 20, it called for more parent volunteers to help with the accelerated growth of the lunch line. Harris also gave The Page a statement towards the running of the lunch program, “We appreciate the patience of all of our Knights and cannot thank the staff [enough] in the Cafeteria for how much work goes into this process.”

**If you’re interested in learning more about the “Free School Meals For All Act of 2021,” refer to “Free School Lunches in California” from Issue 1, written by Eric Wickboldt.