The anticipated discussion over a free summer lunch program at the city’s was pulled from the agenda when Glendora City Council member Judy Nelson withdrew her motion for the discussion during Tuesday’s city council meeting.
Nelson said the city council meeting was not the appropriate forum to discuss the school district-sponsored free summer meal program, open to all children under the age of 18.
“I realize that the city is simply responding to a request by Glendora Unified to provide a location to operate a free summer lunch program,” Nelson said during Tuesday’s meeting.
“It is primarily a Glendora Unified School District matter and any further discussion from this point forward would be more appropriately held at the school district level,” Nelson said, citing her reasons to withdraw her motion.
During the June 26 City Council meeting, Nelson took aim at the free summer meal program, requesting that the city stop providing a location for the program.
Nelson said the program, sponsored by the Glendora Unified School District, was an example of government assuming the responsibilities of parents who Nelson said should ensure the healthy eating habits of their children.
Nelson said she did not believe it was the government’s role to provide food for its citizens.
"It's the role of parents to provide food for their children," said Nelson.
Nelson’s comments drew the opposition of Mayor Pro Tem Joe Santoro who said the federally-funded program provided children a positive place to go during the summer.
“I think for us to throw away this opportunity for us to feed our children who come to this community, who play in this community, is not a job that is at this level of government,” Santoro said at the June 26 meeting. “By doing this, I think we’re making a statement that I don’t think needs to made at our level of government.”
During the meeting, Nelson compared free government handouts to feeding wild animals at parks.
“The National Parks Service cautions us that when visit the parks, we should not feed the animals because they will grow dependent on the handouts and not know how to take care of themselves,” Nelson said, reading from a comment she said was sent to her by a concerned citizen.
Nelson later said at Tuesday’s meeting that her comments may have been unintentionally offensive.
“I realize that the analogy I read as part of comments in the last meeting was insulting to some,” said Nelson.
However, Nelson said her original request for the discussion was not to debate the issue of whether government should provide assistance for individuals who qualify as low-income, but to discuss big government spending and the loss of personal responsibility of citizens.
“The purpose of the motion was to raise some awareness of what is going on throughout the state, and throughout the nation, that during the summer children are receiving free lunches without qualifying for need, creating an expectation of our government to provide free meals regardless of need,” Nelson told Patch.
“I thought the council meeting was a good place to have an open discussion,” she said. “Yes, there are children who are in need of a place to. Yes, there are parents who need assistance in feeding their families. I’m not taking issue with that. But when government says, ‘We’ll take responsibilities for parents to feed their children even if they don’t qualify for the need,’ it concerns me. I think [the summer lunch program] is establishing a precedent that is sending out the wrong message.”
Stacy Johnson, director of food services for Glendora Unified, said under federal guidelines, the program can’t screen individual children they provide free meals to, although locations for the program were determined through the number of reduced price lunch applications the district receives.
Johnson said Glendora was chosen as a location because over 50 percent of the children in the area qualified for reduced price meals.
“We can’t screen each child that comes in for a meal to make sure they qualify because the way the government sees it, that’s discriminatory,” said Johnson. “But based on the number of applications we receive for reduced price lunches, there is definitely a need to provide this service.”
Since the free summer meal program began running in Glendora last year, Johnson has said she has seen more families needing financial assistance due to economic hardship.
“There are more families struggling in Glendora than people realize,” said Johnson.