As It Happens

School cafeteria worker quits after she's ordered to take food from kids who can't pay

Stacy Koltiska left her job at a Pennsylvania elementary school after a new policy was implemented that refused hot lunches to students with an overdue balance on their accounts.
Stacy Koltiska quit her job as a school cafeteria worker after she was ordered to take a hot lunch away from a Grade One student. (Stacy Koltiska/Facebook)

It sounds like a scene out of Oliver Twist — except it's happening in Pennsylvania, in 2016.

Earlier this month, Canon-McMillan school district cafeteria worker Stacy Koltiska was ordered to take away a hot lunch she served to a hungry Grade One student because he couldn't pay for it.

So she quit on the spot. 

He just looked like a deer in headlights, like 'What is happening here?' And then his little eyes just welled up with tears.- Stacy Koltiska

It was a part of a new policy by the school to refuse meals to kids as young as six-years-old, if their parents had left an outstanding balance on their accounts.

In this case, the parents of the kids had an overdrawn account of more than $25.

She says the meals were taken away — and then thrown out. In their place, the kids were given two slices of bread with a single slice of cheese.

Here is part of Stacy Koltiska's interview with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Carol Off: Just take us back to this lunch time when this young boy came to get his meal. What happened? 

Stacy Koltiska: [We were told] to serve the child the hot lunch and then, when we find out they don't have money, we take it from them and give them the cheese sandwich and then throw [the hot lunch] away.

CO: So this boy had his lunch and then what happened? 

SK: First, he just looked like a deer in headlights, like 'What is happening here?' And then his little eyes just welled up with tears. You could tell he was holding back tears. It is sinful and shameful. It is unimaginable, quite honestly, that this is happening. It was the most heart-wrenching thing. I looked to my boss. I said 'I can't do this. I won't do this.' I said, 'No, I'm quitting.' 

CO: Tell me about this cheese sandwich?

SK:  It's just two pieces of bread with one piece of cold cheese. It's not even toasted. It just humiliates the child because then all the other kids can see that he has this cheese sandwich and they don't. 

CO: It's going to be clear that he doesn't have the money to pay for his lunch?

Children are God's greatest gifts and, if we can't protect them and stand up for them, who else is going to?- Stacy Koltiska

SK: Exactly. How do we expect our children to go to school for eight hours, focus, concentrate, do well in school, while they're hungry? I mean, it just makes less than zero sense to me. You're punishing a child for the responsibility of the parent. This is a little six, seven-year-old boy. Are you kidding me?

CO: What did it bring back for you when you saw what happened? 

SK: I grew up poor. I was on food stamps as a child. Even if I weren't poor, just as a human being, to do that to a child. Children are God's greatest gifts and, if we can't protect them and stand up for them, who else is going to? To put people over profit and greed. We just live in a greedy world. 

The school district superintendent has defended the policy to local media, saying that it has cut down on the number of parents that don't keep money on their kids' account cards and it does not target families that qualify for financial assistance. 

Listen to Stacy Koltiska's full interview, in which she talks about how she feels about leaving her job and discusses whether she would return if the policy is overturned.  

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