“We do what we can’t do: call the children out of hours and give them a snack to take home. Sometimes the family comes here to ask for food, like a mother who told me: ‘despair has made me lose my shame — I’m hungry’.”
The above account is from Maria*, director of a public school in São Paulo.
She is one of the examples of education professionals who, in the name of humanitarian reason, risk breaking the rules to help parents of students in vulnerable situations.
A support network is formed: cooks, teachers, coordinators and pedagogical directors detect the most critical cases of food insecure families and outline an aid strategy.
“If someone in the kitchen sees a child picking up a lot of fruit and hiding it in his backpack, we already know what is happening. At the end of the day, he calls his parents and gives them some food,” says Maria.
“Once, a boy took so many cookies and kept them [na bolsa], which we had to call him on the way out, discreetly. We explained that he could take everything home, but that when he needed it, he could ask for it. He left jumping for joy. Then we set up a fundraising campaign,” he says.
According to experts consulted by the g1allowing meals to be consumed by families is, in theory, an irregular practice, because the National School Feeding Program (PNAE) is exclusively focused on student nutrition.
If this help is discovered, the Secretary of Education, in theory, can be held responsible by the control bodies for diverting public resources to something that is not among the purposes of the PNAE.
“Of course, it’s complicated: professionals hear, in a conversation circle in the classroom, that someone is in need at home, and then they want to solve it. But the lunch needs to be consumed only by the enrolled students, there is no authorization for parents to consume it”, explains Marcia Simões, president of the São Paulo School Feeding Council. “It is a budget that comes from Education, so that children are fed and are able to learn.”
Bag with rice is donated by school to vulnerable students — Photo: Personal archive
Gabriel Corrêa, manager of educational policies at the NGO Todos Pela Educação, also reinforces that the distribution of meals to family members is not allowed, but he makes a reservation.
“It is a humanitarian issue. Educators try to find a temporary and immediate solution to support children. Anyone who works in education knows: a student does not learn anything on an empty stomach.”
What should happen, according to Simões and Corrêa, is a greater articulation of the education networks with the social assistance sector (read more below), in addition to the wide dissemination of a protocol to be followed by teachers when they detect cases of food insecurity.
In the North region, Isadora*, mother of two students at a municipal school, says that she is unemployed and that her only source of income is Auxílio Brasil (R$ 400), which is insufficient to pay for the entire family’s food.
“The principal where my daughter studies is an angel. She knows who is in need, and then she lets the child carry some lunch in her backpack. That’s what has sustained me for the past two months. Thanks to her, I had lunch and dinner: porridge, soup, biscuits with juice.”
Families go to schools to get help to eat — Photo: Personal archive
Isadora says her priorities are ensuring the children’s food and preventing them from dropping out of school to work.
“People see my boy as a nobody. He cries and says: ‘Mommy, one day I will leave this life’. I say yes, it’s just studying.”
In another public school, in the Southeast, teacher Lúcia* says that “there ends up having food left over without a student, like when there is a class council or an event at school”.
“On these dates, the school unofficially calls the parents of the most needy young people to distribute beans, eggs, vegetables, fruits and, sometimes, meat. It’s all hidden and under the hood, because if the government gets suspicious, school management can be warned”, reports.
Relatives of students take part of the leftovers from their lunches home — Photo: Personal archive
Importance of dialogue with social assistance
Corrêa, from Todos Pela Educação, explains that the school must identify the problem — such as hunger, vulnerability, mental or physical health problems, domestic violence — and refer the case to another social protection instrument.
It is up to the school management to demand a solution from the City Hall assistance network.
“The difficult thing is that the professional does not know what to do when he sees a hungry child. This is not his fault, but the public administration’s fault, which must disseminate information and create protocols on how to act in these cases. We need more dialogue. The actions for a child in the classroom cannot be separated from those that exist in the area of health or social assistance”, says Corrêa.
Sought by the report, the Ministries of Education and Citizenship did not comment until the last update of this text.
Are kitties allowed?
Coordinators, teachers and parents heard by the g1 report that it is common for education professionals – even those who receive low pay – to raise awareness and donate, out of their own pockets, money or food to the most destitute families.
This type of fundraising campaign, even if it involves school employees, is not irregular, because it does not involve public money.
“When there is a situation like this, it is natural and welcome for educators and professionals to do everything they can to support children and families. But these are emergency actions that cannot replace the government”, says Corrêa, from Todos Pela Educação.
“These education professionals are very good at supporting critical situations with crowdfunding, but they must demand the city hall and the state government to reinforce meals and a greater relationship with social assistance. Acting on time is important, but we need more structural solutions.”
What do education departments and ministries say?
O g1 contacted all state education departments in the country. The bodies of Acre, Roraima, Rio Grande do Sul, Minas Gerais, Mato Grosso do Sul, Pernambuco, Rio de Janeiro, Espírito Santo and the Federal District stated that they are unaware of any cases of schools or education professionals directing meals to students’ families.
They also reinforced that food served in schools can only be consumed by students — and that cases of parents in a situation of vulnerability should be referred to the secretariats/social assistance bodies.
The other states had not responded until the last update of this report.
* The names of the interviewees were changed at their request.
What is food insecurity