Warwick not alone in tackling student lunch debt
School Lunch Debts Were Just Paid Off for 1,788 Students in Honor of Philando Castile
A crowdfunding campaign named after the late Philando Castile, a nutrition supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul, Minnesota, who was shot and killed by police during a routine traffic stop in 2016, has raised more than $150,000 to help pay off school lunch debt in Castile’s home state. Last week, Pamela Fergus, the founder of the fundraiser and a psychology instructor at Metropolitan State University, delivered a $35,000 check to St. Paul Public Schools, the New York Times reports.
That check, along with another $10,000 delivered last year, was enough to pay off the school lunch debt of 1,788 students who are part of the National School Lunch Program at 56 St. Paul public schools – and whose families had fallen behind on their lunch payments. While around 40% of students in the United States qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, according to CNN, many students whose parents or guardians make just over the cut-off of $25,000 for a family of three end up accruing school lunch debt. Because of this, more than three-quarters of US school districts have unpaid school lunch debt nationwide. Across the country, the number of children living in poverty increased by 6% between 2000 and 2013.
Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, and ensuring zero hunger and access to quality education are goals number two and four. As a nutrition supervisor at a school attended by primarily low-income students, Castile would regularly help students at his school pay off lunch debt by dipping into his own pockets, CNN reports. Now, the charity in his name is paying off more lunches than he could have himself. Philando Feeds The Children, the charity lunch program created in memory of #PhilandoCastile, has eliminated the lunch debt of every student at all 56 schools in Minnesota’s St. Paul public school system #RIP#BlackExcellencepic.
Organizers are not content with just paying off school lunch debt for students in St. Paul – and have their eyes set on paying off school lunch debt statewide, the Times reports.
3 things you can do to stop student lunch shaming
The problem of school lunch debt, or the debt students acquire when they cannot pay for their school lunches, drew national attention back in 2015 when a Colorado cafeteria worker was fired for giving food away to hungry students who didn’t qualify for a free or reduced lunch. After hearing about the problem on CNN last year, Jeffrey Lew, a concerned father from Washington, took action by starting a campaign on GoFundMe, the success of which surprised even him: within five days he had raised $50,000 to pay off lunch debt in the Seattle Public Schools district and two other districts in the state. Now a self-proclaimed school lunch shaming and debt activist, Lew wanted to start another campaign that would eliminate all lunch debt for every Washington school district. School lunch shaming has garnered enough public criticism to attract the attention of political leaders. In 2017, New Mexico state senator Michael Padilla wrote legislation that banned school lunch shaming practices, inspiring a wave of similar bills in state and federal legislatures.
One effort helped raise more than $100,000 for lunch debt in the Minneapolis Public Schools district. Making school lunch debt common knowledge is a central part of Lew’s strategy. In the last two years, the crowdfunding site GoFundMe has helped raise more than $500,000 to pay off schools’ lunch debt. If you choose the latter, Lew suggests first calling your school district and asking if they have families with school lunch debt, how much they owe, and if there are any existing campaigns to address it. Though viral stories about lunch shaming often cast school administrators in an unflattering or even villainous light, the crux of the problem is that schools are almost always between a rock and a hard place when it comes to their budgets.
When parents don’t or can’t pay for their child’s school lunch, and the student hasn’t been enrolled in a free or reduced lunch program, a school can rack up tens of thousands of dollars in debt to the school district. Push for federal legislation that bans school lunch shaming and increases funding for reduced and free lunch programs.
March 5, 2018.Before Philando Castile became a household name in July 2016, when his deadly encounter with a Minnesota police officer was streamed live on Facebook, students at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School knew him simply as Mr. Phil. Last week, the creator of the charity, Philando Feeds the Children, delivered a $35,000 check to St. Paul Public Schools – enough to finish paying off the debt owed by every student enrolled in the National School Lunch Program at the district’s 56 schools, including Mr.
Castile’s former campus. Ms. Fergus created the charity last fall as a class project with her students in Psychology 212. It had a more modest goal then: to raise several thousand dollars to cover students’ cafeteria debts at J.J. Hill.
Combined with the $35,000 donation last week, Philando Feeds the Children has covered the debts of at least 1,788 students, the district said on Sunday night. Mr. Castile knew firsthand the hardships many students face. In the school district, about 70 percent of the roughly 37,000 students are enrolled in free or reduced-price lunch, a federal program that pays for a student’s entire meal or a large part of it. Students whose families are part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, automatically receive free lunches at school.
Others are eligible based on income: A student in a family of three would qualify for free lunch if the household made less than $26,546 a year. Every St. Paul student who goes through the cafeteria line receives a meal, and those who are charged a full or reduced price have the amount withdrawn from a personal account. Although the donations from Philando Feeds the Children have covered the debts of students enrolled in the federal program, the district still has $100,000 in lunch debt, said Stacy Koppen, its director of nutrition services. Additional students could qualify but have not turned in their applications, and others just miss the financial cutoff for eligibility.