Thousands of Oakland school children won't be getting meals due to budget cuts

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Thousands of Oakland school children won't be getting a hot meal at the end of the day through their after school programs. 

The school district says due to budget constraints the board voted to eliminate the supper program this year. Some parents didn't learn about the change until school started and are calling for the district to try and find funds or donations to bring the program back. Oakland school sports had also been on the chopping block, but this week an anonymous donor and the Oakland Raiders ponied up nearly $300,000 to save them. 

As of Friday, no one has stepped up to save the meal program.

Jayveon Reineke, 8, participates in the after school program at Martin Luther King Junior Elementary School and he was quick  to name his favorite foods.

"Burger, pizza and macaroni and cheese...broccoli," said Jayveon, adding with a smile,  "Do you know that tomatoes are fruit?"

He and his friends spend up to three hours playing and studying. 

"We had crackers and juice," said Timil Yazzie, a fourth grade student. 

The small snack, though, is nothing like the nutritious hot meal the children received last year to keep them from going hungry between lunch and pickup time. 

"They're hungry, they haven't eaten a real meal since lunchtime and then they're at school until 6 p.m.," said Tabetha Young, who works and then rushes to pick up her son Amani and other children. 

Many parents didn't realize until the start of school that the school board had voted in June to eliminate the supper program. 

"It's frustrating because you know, we're all struggling at the end of the day and I don't think food should be something kids should have to be worrying about," said Maria Bates, an Oakland parent.

School district spokesman John Sasaki says budget constraints prompted the cuts. He says the supper program food received federal funding, but the district will save about $1.4 million  in labor costs by eliminating one staff position and reducing 18 positions from full-time to part-time. 

"The dinner program was something we started about six years ago and it's been very popular obviously for the kids who depend on it. and we are sad to see it go," said Sasaki, "Given the financial circumstances that we're in right now. We had to make some very difficult decisions." 

About 3,000 students out of the 36,000 students in the district received the evening meal, according to the district. About 500 students were involved in the sports cuts that were initially cut. 

"They'd get hot meals, spaghetti sometimes, tacos a few time, pizza," said one parent Keith Gandy who has two girls in the after school program. Gandy says as a working parent it was a big help, knowing the children were getting a meal before they got home. Now, he says their dinnertime will be much later and he and other families will have to figure out how to stretch their dollars.. 

"Just a little more strenuous. Put a little more hours in at work to put more groceries on the table," said Gandy.

"Not all families are fortunate to go home and you know, there are many families that rely on the meals that are provided here at the school," said Jennifer Sanchez, whose daughter just started school. 

"You see the chip bags all over the parks, but this could be the one place where they get a meal or a couple meals a day," said Cambria Pickett, an Oakland parent with a daughter in the after school program.

"I feel like instead of giving up and just saying hey we can't do this, they should be fundraising, they should be reaching out to parents," said Maria Bates. 

One group has formed an online petition to urge the district to reinstate the program.

The district spokesman says school officials are working to find a way to restore the supper program in the coming year.