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.