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Approximately 22% of all children in the United States live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level – $23,550 a year. Those that do qualify for free or reduced lunches in most states.
Unfortunately, in today’s economy, living above the poverty line according to federal guidelines isn’t always enough to ensure everyone in the household goes to bed with a full stomach. In fact, research shows that on average, families need an income of almost $50,000 to cover basic expenses in the United States.
This is a lesser-known problem that has yet to be remedied, but when a bus driver tried raising awareness about the issue, he was fired for speaking out.
TIME reports that Johnny Cook was driving kids home during the last week of school when a middle school boy approached him and complained that he was hungry. When Cook asked if he had eaten, the student relayed that cafeteria staff refused to serve him food, as his lunch card was 40 cents short.
For understood reasons, the bus driver was shocked. After arriving home from work, Cook expressed his thoughts in a Facebook post to relay his frustration and get feedback. He wrote:
“A middle schooler got on my bus this evening and said mr johnny im[sic] hungry. I said why are you hungry buddy? Didn’t you eat lunch?
He said no sir I didn’t have any money on my account. I said they would let you charge it? No sir.
Huh! What! This child is already on reduced lunch and we can’t let him eat. Are you kidding me? I’m certain there was leftover food thrown away today.
But kids were turned away because they didn’t have .40 on there[sic] account .
As a tax payer, I would much rather feed a child than throw it away.”
Nearly everyone who read the post agreed with him, making the post go viral. Unfortunately, his employer was embarrassed by the situation, therefore, called him to the superintendent’s office and gave him two choices: Cook could either redact his Facebook status and issue a public apology, or he would be fired from his job as a bus driver for the Haralson County Middle School.
The activist decided to go with the latter option, as he wholeheartedly believes in what he wrote and wasn’t about to take it back. Once news stations caught up with him, Cook relayed that he still hadn’t changed his mind He told CBS Atlanta:
“I’m proud of the reaction and I’m proud I was able to make a stand when some people may not be able to. And maybe I was able to make a change, in some way.”
Though the superintendent claims the bus driver’s post was against the school’s Facebook policy, the public is intent on helping him get his job back. Various petitions have popped up imploring the school to give the bus driver his job back.
In addition, a discussion has been sparked on the topic of school lunches and the ethics of allowing kids to go hungry – even if they don’t have money in their accounts. To raise awareness about similar issues of neglect by the educational system, Mr. Cook started a Facebook page called “Johnny’s Kids” that all members of the public may join.
This article will be updated if there is news about his reassignment or reinstatement.