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A School Lunch Hero for Disabled Children

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In 1944 World War II was still raging, and students at a school for disabled children in Cincinnati were facing their own daily struggles. Even having enough money for a school lunch was no easy task.

The school had a fund set up to provide lunches for the students. Keeping this fund resourced was the problem; that is, until the school received some help from someone very generous. As a result, the school lunch fund got a big boost which meant many more meals for the students.

Who was this mystery helper? It was one of their own students, 10-year-old Charles Graff Jr. Graff had to study at home because he had the disease hemophilia, so that any slight cut could cause severe and even deadly bleeding. As Charles was confined to his home, a teacher from the school visited him there to give lessons.

Charles also had a hobby: collecting sales tax stamps. You could redeem these stamps, which were placed on various items sold in stores, for cash from the government. So Charles kept collecting and as the Cincinnati Enquirer reported, he would give them to his teacher who would drop them off at the school. The tax stamps would then be redeemed, providing the school with a fund to buy the students lunches or sometimes even clothes.

Charles’s father, who worked at the Red Top Brewing Co., got co-workers involved to provide Charles with more stamps. More stamps meant more meals for the children.

Charles was ahead of his time. In 1944 there was no National School Lunch program; there was a limited luncheon program under President Roosevelt.

In 1946 President Harry Truman signed into law the National School Lunch Act, which provided free or reduced-price lunches for needy children all around the country. Healthier children meant better-educated and more productive citizens for the future. It was a program built to last.

Charles, whose nickname was Bubbles, remained confined to his home and sometimes a wheelchair. That did not stop him, though, from being the “official” for many games his friends played on the street. Charles would officiate the games from his window.

The hemophilia took his life in 1950 at the age of 15. His legacy carries on. What Graff did in helping his classmates receive lunches is an example for all to follow. Fighting child hunger is about problem-solving. You need people to find solutions, not excuses for why children cannot access basic foods.

Groups like Feeding America work to make sure children do not go hungry. This means strengthening the national school lunch program when required, or filling in gaps with after-school meals and summer feeding. For this reason, Charles Graff would make a great honorary ambassador for Feeding America.

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.