Chobani CEO Picks Up Lunch Tab For A Few Thousand Rhode Island School Kids
The humanitarians at the Warwick, Rhode Island, School District announced last week that any students with "unpaid balances" on their lunch accounts would enjoy an exclusive menu of sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches. They'd dine with a scarlet "P" for "poverty" until they settled their tabs. They'd also be seated in the "point and laugh" section of the cafeteria.
Fortunately, yogurt company Chobani stepped up and offered to pay off the estimated $77,000 debt. It's also donating cups and yogurt to the Warwick community.
Warwick's per capita income is $23,100. The poverty rate is 6.7 percent. This includes children. Seventy percent of schoolchildren receive free or reduced price lunches. School is where many kids receive their only nutritious meal of the day. We don't need to make them feel bad about it. But weasels like Paul Ryan might disagree.
RYAN: You know, this reminds me of a story I heard from Eloise Anderson. She serves in the Cabinet of my buddy, Gov. Scott Walker. She once met a young boy from a very poor family. And every day at school, he would get a free lunch from a government program. He told Eloise he didn't want a free lunch. He wanted his own lunch—one in a brown-paper bag just like the other kids. He wanted one, he said, because he knew a kid with a brown-paper bag had someone who cared for him.
We fully support every child having someone who loves them and packs their lunches with extra sunshine. Unfortunately, that's not reality. Starving or humiliating children isn't going to magically turn their parents into tech start-up millionaires. It will, however, contribute to poor performance that will needlessly limit their own potential. And anyway, OF COURSE, Paul Ryan was lying.
President Jed Bartlet, who is fictional but more human than Ryan, put it best: "If fidelity to freedom and democracy is the code of our civic religion then surely the code of our humanity is faithful service to that unwritten commandment that says, 'We shall give our children better than we ourselves had.'"
Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya is living up to that code. And so is Angelica Penta, a local restaurant owner. She set up donation jars in two of the diners she runs with her husband, Michael. She helped raised $12,000 to pay off student lunch debts. She did this last year. But the Warwick Public Schools turned her down.
"The business owner has maintained a position that they want to make a single, large donation to the district while leaving the student selection process to the school department," Warwick Public Schools told WPRI in a statement. "This is a position that the school department cannot support given the school's mission to treat all children equitably."
That's a pretty galling statement considering the school's executed policy deliberately singled out children for unfair treatment. Fortunately, Chobani made a donation so large and public it was impossible to refuse. Ulukaya has done impressive work with the company he founded in 2005. Thirty percent of his workforce are refugees. He believes most people who come to this country want to contribute and become part of a community. They don't want to take anything away from those already here. If only the president appreciated this.
And to our eternal amusement, Chobani sued toxic waste dump Alex Jones for defamation when he accused the Twin Falls, Idaho, company of "importing migrant rapists." Jones was forced to apologize and retract his gross statements, and Wonkette got to post our second-favorite-ever headline, Alex Jones Apologizes To Yogurt.
We appreciate what Chobani and Angelica Penta have done for kids who need help and compassion. We're also glad to have a nice time for a change.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He's on the board of the Portland Playhouse theater and writes for the immersive theater Cafe Nordo in Seattle.