Friday, August 29, 2014

The Story of School Lunch: FDR and Surplus Commodities

Over the past two summers Russell Library interns Ashton Ellett and Kaylynn Washnock assisted in curating the new exhibit, “Food, Power, and Politics: The Story of School Lunch” opening September 26th in the Russell Library’s Harrison Feature Gallery. The exhibit examines the complicated past of the National School Lunch Program, from feeding malnourished children and putting excess commodities to good use, to the more recent debates over childhood obesity and nutrition in America. This post is one in a series where Ashton and Kaylynn provide a preview of key documents featured in the exhibition.   

Amidst the Great Depression, the Roosevelt administration began disbursing donations of surplus commodities through several New Deal agencies, including the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), the Federal Surplus Commodity Corporation (FSCC), and the Surplus Marketing Administration (SMA). But the onset of World War II in 1941 reshaped federal support for lunch programs. Although Congress began rationing supplies and diverting labor to support the war effort, federal grants offered subsidies to school lunch programs for the purchase of food and milk.

Miscellaneous Publication 467,
produced by the USDA, October 1941.

The USDA Miscellaneous Publication No. 467 demonstrates the effect of war on the program. The lunch program peaked during the 1941-1942 school year with nearly 6 million children served annually.

By March of 1941, most states in the economically depressed South and West had enrolled and worked with the Surplus Marketing Administration to receive foodstuffs. Georgia had the highest average for school enrollment in the nation at 61.7 percent. Ultimately, rising food and labor costs forced cuts in lunch service during the war years, which saw numbers dwindle.

At the close of World War II, school lunch proponents found a new advocate in Georgia Senator Richard B. Russell, Jr. With his leadership, the still piece-meal initiative would navigate both houses of Congress and become a mandate of federal law. In 1946, Congress passed the National School Lunch Act establishing a nationwide program.

Want to find out more about School Lunch? Visit Food, Power, and Politics: The Story of School Lunch on display in the Harrison Feature Gallery inside the Richard B. Russell Building Special Collections Libraries from September 26, 2014 through May 15, 2015. The Russell Library gallery is free and open to the public weekdays from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and on Saturdays from 1-5 p.m. For more information, email or call 706-542-5788.

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