School Meals Are a Daily Lifeline

See them in action at one Mississippi elementary school

School meals are a daily lifeline for millions of families who cannot afford consistent, nutritious meals for every member of their household. This is especially true at this particular moment, when inflation is at an all time high and many families across the country have seen their emergency SNAP benefits drastically reduced.

Nobody knows the reality of this more than Teresa McGhee.

Teresa, or “Ms. McGhee” as she’s known by her students, is the Cafeteria Manager at George H. Oliver Elementary School in Clarksdale, Mississippi, home of the Wild Kittens. She knows the power of school meals in transforming the lives of children.

Teresa has worked in the food service industry for 17 years, the last 6 of which have been at George H. Oliver. She was born and raised in Clarksdale, Mississippi and originally got into this line of work because of her love of cooking. “I found my passion in cooking. It comes so naturally because I’ve been doing it so long,” she said.

As the Cafeteria Manager, she’s responsible for sourcing all of the school’s food and overseeing the cooking. Despite being responsible for so much, she knows every single child’s name and if they have dietary restrictions. She also makes it her mission for kids to try new vegetables, and is usually successful just by asking them to “Do it for me.” The kids of George H. Oliver truly feel seen and heard by her. “You see it brighten their eyes,” she said, recalling how students feel when she remembers their name.

Teresa McGhee quote

Teresa is keenly aware that the majority of the students’ nutrition is coming from school, not from home. In fact, her and her team provided to-go meals during COVID lockdowns, because otherwise, “kids would have gone hungry,” she said. The Mississippi Delta, where George H. Oliver is located, has some of the highest rates of food insecurity in the entire country, and many residents have to travel 20 miles just to get to a grocery store. 95% of students at the school receive free or reduced-price school lunch.

Teresa says that she can tell if one of the kids is particularly hungry and will make sure that child gets extra food, even if they show up after breakfast has closed. When a child was taking breakfast home in his backpack so his sister could eat, she gave that child extra. “They know if they come to me, I’ll always give them something to eat,” she said.

Teresa is helping to care for the children in her community. PHA believes that every family, in every zip code in America should have access to good food - and that access shouldn’t depend on the season. To make that our reality, we must follow her lead and demand a food system that works for all of us.

Artwork outside of a classroom at George H. Oliver Elementary School

We hope you’ll visit our summer hunger landing page to learn more about how we’re ending summer hunger and check out our action center for how you can get involved. Together, we can provide food to families when they need it most.

Our Work In Motion