All public-school students in Decatur, Georgia, have had their lunch debt wiped out thanks to generous community members and new grant money.
Kids with meal debt within City Schools of Decatur would have been on an “alternative” lunch program containing just milk and a cheese sandwich starting on February 1, reported Fox 5 Atlanta.
The total unpaid lunch debt in the school system was estimated to be around $88,000 — 36 percent of which was held by students who received free or reduced lunches due to low income.
Parents and community members became enraged when news of the minuscule lunches for indebted students spread, prompting a local CEO to step up and gather donations.
Can we please get a list of unpaid balances and pay them for these children so they don’t have to be embarrassed like this😢! https://t.co/Gq9rz1l70G
— Jasmine Crowe-Houston (@jasminecrowe) January 23, 2024
“On Monday, I learned that Decatur City Schools planned to serve cheese sandwiches and milk to students with unpaid meal balances for more than three days,” she wrote on LinkedIn. “This practice can be embarrassing and stigmatizing for the kids, affecting their self-esteem and overall well-being.”
She continued on to say that the schools were in need of $88,000 in order for every child to have a “full, nutritious meal to fuel their bodies and minds.”
No child should ever go hungry or be subjected to unnecessary embarrassment due to the financial constraints of their parents. Every child deserves a full, nutritious meal to fuel their bodies and minds for a successful day of learning. I am a huge supporter of educators and I know that hunger can impede learning and that no teacher could ever teach through hunger.
It is important that we prioritize the well-being of our kids and ensure they have access to healthy, balanced meals. I spoke with the school district’s department of nutrition and learned they have an outstanding balance of $88K and they are accepting donations. I have created a GoFundMe to pay off the balances for these kids so they don’t face this stigmatization. Please consider making a donation and/or sharing this with your network.
According to local news outlet Decaturish, Crowe-Houston successfully raised $86,000 in just 48 hours.
However, more companies also stepped in to help in the nick of time.
Upon hearing of the debt, the Arby’s Foundation provided the full donation needed to cover every single unpaid meal balance.
Perimeter Roofing donated an additional $60,000 to the school district through their nonprofit, Perimeter Cares, after hearing of the debt.
A press release from CSD shared the good news in a full statement, announcing that the additional money would be used to help “individual families experiencing financial hardships.”
City Schools of Decatur is grateful for the overwhelming support we have received from the greater Atlanta community. Our doors remain open for ongoing collaboration. However, we are delighted to confirm the $88k lunch debt has been eliminated thanks to the generosity of a corporate foundation grant. All past balances have been forgiven. CSD has less than a 10 percent poverty rate, and eligible families continue to receive regular meals through the National Lunch Program. We have also finalized agreements with organizations to provide additional assistance to individual families experiencing financial hardships. As a public school district, we often have to make difficult decisions. However, we remain committed to providing healthy meal options for all students while working diligently to proactively prevent future debt reoccurrences.
School Board Chair James Herndon also told Decaturish that the district will be working to “fix the issues” with the lunch debt system.
“In response to community feedback, they have also enhanced internal systems to make it easier for families to avoid negative balances. I hope the community will give us time as the board works to fix the issues,” Herndon said. “This same advocacy at the state level is also encouraged by the community to fully resolve the concerns around the School Nutrition Program for all public school districts.”
Crowe-Houston announced that GoFundMe would be returning the money she raised to everyone who donated.
“While I did offer to still provide the donation to set up a reserve nutrition fund for future meal balances, sadly my donation was declined,” the Goodr founder wrote on Instagram.
“I can’t thank everyone enough for elevating this issue,” she added. “Meal shaming is never an acceptable way of tackling the issue of childhood hunger and thanks to the awareness generated by community-driven kindness, that has been prevented here.”