Even While Protesting, Arizona Educators And Volunteers Fight To Keep Students Fed

600,000 students in Arizona qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program.

While the teacher walkout in Arizona is scheduled to continue into this week, teachers across the state evidently still consider their students their top priority. In addition to businesses, community parks and recreation departments, and churches offering to watch kids during school hours, teachers and volunteers are joining together to make sandwiches for the thousands of students who rely on school lunches during the week. While some efforts are being funded by donations, many others are being financed by educators themselves, further exemplifying the lengths school staff and teachers are willing to go to fill the resource gaps left by funding

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RedForEd Meals, named after the movement of teachers in Arizona responsible for organizing the protests, started with a Facebook post by museum marketing manager Heidi Richmond in which she offered to make sack lunches for students in need during the walkout. Since then, she has fielded requests for meals and offers to help her out from around the state. The majority of the requests for meals, she told A Plus, most frequently are coming from educators — one of whom offered to pay for the lunches — who understand what not being in school can mean for one of the 600,000 students in Arizona who qualify for the free and reduced-price lunch program.

"What I keep hearing from teachers is that they're torn; they want to be in two places at one," she said. "They know how important this is. They know that walking out truly is for their students."

Meals packed for students by RedForEd Meals. Photo courtesy of Heidi Richmond

Richmond said that, in addition to educators and former educators helping her pack the meals, more than one teacher has met her at the school and then taken it upon themselves to deliver the lunch directly to the kids. When she made her initial trip to Costco to purchase peanut butter and jelly and bread while wearing a red shirt in support of the #RedForEd movement, she said the cashier had mistaken her for a teacher because they had seen so many educators that day doing the exact same thing Richmond was doing.  

"It was the most humbling thing just knowing that teachers well before I had been doing this were getting ready to make sure that their kids were fed during this walkout," she said. 

The walkout organized by educators in Arizona last week was the largest in recent history. While the demonstrators are asking for a pay increase – Arizona ranks 44th in the nation in teacher pay— they are also fighting to restore resources to school districts. Among their demands are that the $1 billion in state money for education that has been cut since the recession be restored and that no new tax cuts be passed until the state's per-student spending reaches the national average. 

"If you haven't seen the devastation in classrooms from the funding cuts, thank a teacher," Richmond said. "If you don't think there's a problem, it's probably because the teachers are holding everything down, and they're doing everything that they can to make sure that their students and families don't suffer." 

Teachers, students, and parents advocating for increase funding for K-12 education, as other parents drop of their children for school at Brisas Elementary School. (Shutterstock /  Eric O. Ledermann)

Richmond is neither a teacher nor a parent, but labels herself as a concerned citizen who "benefitted from a village of people who helped raise me — and many of them of are educators." She says she was not the most well-behaved student and lists the teachers and school staff who didn't give up on her as one of the major motivators for her actions. 

"Truly, my entire life has been shaped by educators around me," Richmond told A Plus. "I watched this group of people constantly advocate and work for others and not stand up for themselves because they're too busy standing up for others...I'm doing what teachers quietly do year-round."

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