Part 3: Lunch Tokens of Hawai’i (The Impetus)

The impetus behind the creation of the lunch school tokens was the rapid malnutrition of the children attending school in the Territory of Hawaii (early 1910s). Department of Health eventually cut funding to feed the malnutrition students. Civic groups stepped in when they could, but was only localized to a specific school and grade level(s). Teachers and other community leaders saw that a well fed student was a student that could learn at his/her full potential.  Many of the students were identified as not eating breakfast and/or not bringing a lunch. In some cases, the students would seek unhealthy food from food vendor carts that came  to the school.

The students who could not afford lunch suffered the most. However, a self-sustaining lunch program was being developed at two schools in 1913. The Normal School was the model. The Normal School set the standard in which lunches were provided to students. A school kitchen was installed. Girls would be taught classes in cooking. Classes would be taught in gardening. Students (under training) created the meals. In fact, the school was showing a profit from its 5 cents a meal lunch program. Several dignitaries visited the school based on this program. Most of the schools began requesting kitchen equipment to aid in the malnutrition problem (and to keep the students  with no home provided lunches on school grounds). Based on the school’s curriculum, the cooking classes and gardening classes provided the mechanism to provide meals.

As for the school lunch tokens, think of its start as a welfare program instituted by the school for identified students with malnutrition. As a self-sustaining school lunch program arose, those who can pay paid with legal tender. Those who were identified as students with malnutrition where provided free lunch tokens (and most likely performed a school task in exchange for the token, such as cleaning).

As the lunch program grew, the lunch tokens were sold to the students at the beginning of the month. This was mostly likely to obtain funds in advance to pay for the food supplies for the oncoming month. But again, the underlying reason for the inception of the school lunch program is that it provided the means to aid low-income students to be fed by providing free school lunch tokens for meals.