Hunger games at Acalanes: The fight for free lunch

Chaos breaks out when lunch bell rings

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Emma Uffelman

Acalanes High School students wait in line for a free lunch, a perk carried over from last year when the pandemic was at its peak.

The bell rings and chaos breaks loose as hundreds of students race down the halls to beat the lunch lines that plague Acalanes High School this year. 

As Acalanes students return to school, a state-wide decision to offer free meals results in massive lunch lines for students as more people than ever turn to school lunch.

The United States Department of Agriculture announced its continuous offer of free lunches throughout the 2021-2022 school year. Acalanes will continue to receive Grab and Go Meals to hand out to students free of charge, just like during hybrid learning last year. 

In previous years, the school lunch program offered more meal options but with a payment system. The absence of required payments this year has contributed to the massive lines because of the widespread appeal of free lunch.

“The state put in a law that all kids get free lunches, which has led to more students than ever getting lunch from the school,” campus supervisor Mike Pease said. 

Students can spot Pease every lunch and snack break ushering students in and out of the cafeteria, regulating the lines, and setting up barriers to prevent cutting in line.

However, even with the barriers and measures taken against cutting, chaos is still rampant in the lines. Hungry students stampede through the hallways, racing to the lines, and pushing through the crowds to reach the front. Students sometimes even knock over the barriers used to keep the lines under control.

Additionally, there are reports of students leaving class early to beat the long lines and get food first, causing teacher disapproval.

However, few solutions are available to the school. 

“I’d say the school should split grades up. Seniors to seniors, freshmen to freshmen at lunchtime, and at certain times certain people are released which could cut lines in half,” Acalanes junior Clement Chow said. 

The school practiced an idea similar to this during hybrid learning last year. Freshman and sophomores ate lunch together while junior and seniors were at academy and vice-versa, greatly reducing the lines. Students also offer a more spread-out system to facilitate lunch lines.

“I think they should use both sides of the gym to spread out the lines and they could also hire more staff,” junior Simon Hornik said. 

With this solution, the spread-out lines would reduce the chaos and cutting in a single line. 

If the lines continue to stay as long as they are, some students convey that they may start to bring food from home as an alternative.  

“I would probably bring my own lunch because the lines are ridiculously long and take most of lunch,” Hornik said 

However, most students will continue to take advantage of the free food no matter the length of the lines. Acalanes will continue to see high demand from students, and it has to decide whether to take any measures to reduce the lines and the pandemonium they cause. 

 “It’s only proper that if you are waiting in line and you went through it properly that you don’t get cut by someone,” Pease said.