It's been a little over a week since the "Brown Bagging" movement began in the Plum School District, and it already has impacted the food service departments financially.
In an effort to protest new federal guidelines on school lunches, hundreds of students at the packed their lunches instead of buying. Beginning this school year, school districts—Plum and Riverview included—began following the guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, requiring district lunchrooms to serve more whole grains; fruits and vegetables; fat-free or low-fat milk; and foods with lower sodium.
Students initially said they weren't pleased with the increased cost of lunches, the smaller portions and the quality of the food. Their movement has been in the national spotlight for the last week—students in Minnesota followed Plum's example.
Food service Director Maryann Lazzaro said that because the department is a standalone entity, meaning it's not funded with taxpayer dollars, it has been severely impacted by the lunch-packing movement.
Last Monday and Tuesday, Lazzaro said the department served around 900 lunches each day at the high school. That number dropped to 200 by Friday.
Lazzaro said Oblock Junior High numbers also plummeted last week.
"The junior high had a larger impact than I thought," she said.
Consequently, the food service employees have been affected. Lazarro said a long-term substitute is no longer needed. The 15 high school kitchen employees also have been shifted around to fill vacancies in other school buildings because the department's current performance "can't support" that many employees in one building.
"That means that the subs aren't getting work," Lazarro said. "I don't think that people realized the repercussions of this. It could go all the way to down the vendors and delivery people who might work on commission. It's been a difficult situation."
Some students are beginning to realize what an impact the movement has had.
"This #BrownBagginIt idea was good until people who had nothing to do with it could lose their jobs..including my mom," Tweeted one Plum student. "Done #BrownBagginIt."
Another resident wrote, "Well, labor cuts have started in the PHS caf cuz of the #brownbagginit movement! good job kids! hard working people will be out of work now!"
However, sales have been increasing this week. Lazarro said 300 lunches were sold on Tuesday, 400 on Wednesday and 500 on Thursday.
Many students continue to support the protest and are packing their lunches to school. The #BrownBagginIt hashtag on Twitter still is very active and students continue to post photos of their lunches from home.
Though lunch guidelines are regulated by the federal government, the food service director stands behind the quality of food served in Plum.
"The quality has not changed," Lazarro said. "We have not changed one single food item, and we're using the same brands we used previous years. The food looks different because it's not fried, but the brands are the same.
"We have a beautiful array of food items. If I wasn't proud of every piece of food I serve, I wouldn't be as disturbed about this as I am."