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Congressman Salud Carbajal visits Laguna Middle School to address food insecurity

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Congressman Salud Carbajal eats lunch with students at Laguna Middle School September 16 to discuss food insecurity.

Feeding America estimates one in six children are food insecure in the United States. Local Congressman Salud Carbajal visited Laguna Middle School in San Luis Obispo as part of a tour to address food insecurity on the Central Coast.

Laguna Middle School is part of the San Luis Coastal Unified School District (SLCUSD) which is running a new, federally-funded program this year that gives every student access to free breakfast and lunch each day.

The Food Services Department works to ensure each meal is nutritious. The department also said it tries to ensure the food is locally sourced in San Luis Obispo County.

Congressman Carbajal sat down in the school’s garden to eat lunch with a group of students and talk about the importance of their meal program.

He said these kinds of programs come with a number of benefits.

“Parents have more discretionary funding, they have more time with their families because they’re not preparing the meals and the meals are healthy,” Rep. Carbajal said.

Carbajal said sourcing the food nearby also helps boost the local economy and reduce transportation emissions.

Ryan Pinkerton is the assistant superintendent of Business and Support Services for SLCUSD. He said this program helps level the playing field and removes the stigma of getting in line for free food.

“The other big thing that came out of this whole thing, especially this year — before it was embarrassing to go in line, right? Now, everyone is in line,” Pinkerton said.

Erin Primer is the director of Food Services for SLCUSD. She said it has been a five year journey to develop this program and put it into action. Primer said she feels this should be a nationwide program.

“Every single kid that’s sitting here right now, they’re assigned a Chromebook that they don’t pay for,” Primer said. “Why would we not feed them every day? That just seems so basic to me.”

School meal funding has significant bipartisan support but some groups, like the conservative think tank Heritage Foundation, have said free school meals aren’t targeted enough because they don’t keep track of which students need assistance.

Governor Gavin Newsom recently reached a budget agreement securing free lunch for every student in California. That program will take effect at the start of the 2022-23 school year.