WINONA — So where did all these poor kids come from?

There’s something wrong here. Really wrong. For all my life — from the days when My Weekly Reader was a great big picture and three or four short words in big type right up until we learned that our papers of record are instead purveyors of fake news — one story has been consistent: This is the greatest, richest country ever to claim real estate on planet earth. Emphasis — always — on richest.

So I ask again, where did all these poor kids come from?

What poor kids? How about the kids that have been lining up every noon at the old refitted school bus parked in front of the public library for a no-charge lunch. (My good Republican friends would correct me if I called it “free,” because we all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch.) What about the kids who pick up a backpack full of groceries when they leave school every Friday so they’ll have something to eat until they get back for the no-charge school breakfast Monday morning.

And what about all those kids who depend on your generosity and my generosity so they have pencils, crayons and notebook paper for the first day of school?

Those kids. They live right here. According to Department of Education figures, four out of 10 kids are eligible for free or reduced-price school lunch based on family income.

In what we’ve been told all our lives is the richest country in the world, darn near half our families can’t afford to feed their kids lunch.

Does that bother people? Or am I the only one?

OK, before some pious fella hauls out the Good Book to recite how “the poor shall always be with thee,” let me suggest that we also have to live in a world with halitosis, body odor and dysentery — but that doesn’t mean we ought not do what we can to prevent ‘em. So if personal hygiene can be improved, why can’t we do something about our social hygiene? It ought to go without saying that kids going hungry stinks.

Oh yeah, when I was in grade school — way back in the days of clay tablets and cuneiform — it wasn’t all “Leave It To Beaver” and “Father Knows Best.” Sure, we knew which kids had plenty and which families were hard up. And yeah, we could be pretty doggone cruel to a classmate who didn’t have what the rest of us had. Kids were like that then. They still are.

The difference is that now there are a lot more targets. Kids who are hurting already.

Anybody who was picked as a kid knows what I’m talking about. And I have a hunch even Donald Trump got picked on.

But somehow we seem to be pretty much OK with letting all those kids go without.

All summer we drove past that lunch bus without giving it much thought. We toss a few bucks to Ready-Set-School or pick up a pack of Crayolas and a few Bic pens to help Stuff the Bus and feel good about ourselves.

And a kid gets a sandwich, gets a pencil and gets to go home ... still poor.

Four out of 10 — and that’s figuring low. In the richest country in the world.

Or so we’ve been told.

More and more, to me that’s sounding like fake news. I’m sure to those kids it sounds like a fairy tale ... a very grim fairy tale.

We really ought to be ashamed. Even more so, we ought to be doing something about it ... ought to have been doing something about it long before a family had to be rich, really rich, to see its income rise.

No matter how hard Mom and Dad work.

Four out of 10.

In our town.

In the richest country in the world.

Jerome Christenson is editor at the Winona Daily News. His phone number is 507-453-3522 — leave a message if he’s not around — or email him at jerome.christenson@winonadailynews.com.

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