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5 ways communities are helping reduce school lunch debt

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As lunch shaming remains in the national spotlight, many school districts have turned away from providing alternate meals, such as a cheese sandwich, to students who can’t pay for lunch. While this ensures that students are provided a full meal and aren’t stigmatized, it has caused some districts to quickly accumulate lunch debt. In order to keep funds under control, school districts throughout the country are now relying on assistance from their communities to defray the cost of some meals.

1. School lunch fairies

Students at Apollo-Ridge School District in Spring Church, Pa., who can’t pay for lunch may get help from a school “lunch fairy,” an anonymous donor who gives money each month for students in need. The district’s foodservice director places the money in students’ accounts, and the donors don’t find out which student their money goes to.

2. Ugly Christmas sweater sales

After hearing about student meal debt piling up at Minot Public Schools in Minot, N.D., the owner of a local children’s clothing store began selling ugly Christmas sweaters for $5, which will go toward the district’s nutrition program this holiday season.

3.  GoFundMe

Faced with growing lunch debt, St. Paul City School in St. Paul, Minn., sprang into action and set up a GoFundMe account at the end of last month, through which users can donate money to cover unpaid meals. The fundraiser has exceeded its initial goal of $10,000 and continues to grow. Wisconsin students will also be receiving help via GoFundMe. Love In Action, a nonprofit based in Wisconsin Rapids, has also set up a GoFundMe to help reduce meal debt at Wisconsin Rapids School District.

4. Online auction

To help reduce lunch debt at Waterville Public Schools in Waterville, Maine, the district’s parent-teacher organization set up an online auction supplemented with items donated by local businesses. Funds from the auction are being used to both provide enrichment activities and help students who qualify for reduced-price lunch but can’t pay for the remainder.

5. Funds from books

Prairie Pages, an independent book store in Pierre, S.D., is donating a portion of its proceeds this month to Stanley County School District in Fort Pierre, S.D., and Pierre School District in Pierre to help with the districts’ lunch debt. 

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