Education

Good Samaritans helping pay Triangle student meal costs

Tina Smith, center, laughs with fifth-grader Camren Robbins as he pays for lunch at Partnership Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, April 21, 2016. Fifth-grader Bethany Adams is to the right.
Tina Smith, center, laughs with fifth-grader Camren Robbins as he pays for lunch at Partnership Elementary School in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, April 21, 2016. Fifth-grader Bethany Adams is to the right. ehyman@newsobserver.com

Some Good Samaritans are helping to cover lunch costs for Triangle students who don’t have enough money to pay for their meals.

Nationally, people have donated thousands of dollars to erase debts on unpaid lunch accounts so that students can avoid embarrassing situations of getting substitute meals. Locally, some Triangle students have benefited for years from the generosity of people in the community who’ve wanted to help with meal costs.

In Wake County, some school PTAs have set up accounts to cover costs when students run short of money to pay for their meals.

Since 2014, Lunch Angels NC has helped pay off unpaid student lunch accounts for some elementary school students in Durham and Orange counties and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system.

“I believe a lot of people are catching on to this,” said Kyle Newman of Craige Motor Co. in Durham, who co-founded Lunch Angels NC. “We wanted to show people how easy it is to make a major impact in someone’s life, not just in school lunch.”

Area districts handle it differently when students don’t have enough money to pay for meals.

In Durham, students are allowed to run up a tab. When they reach the limit, they get a sandwich and juice instead of the regular school lunch.

In December, a group called the Durham Public School Lunch Angels raised more than $5,300 to pay off the school lunch debt for 632 students whose parents were unable to pay the 40 cents charged for reduced-price meals.

In Wake, students aren’t allowed to run up a meal tab. When the student doesn’t have enough money to pay, the child is taken out of the lunch line to talk with a manager in the kitchen area. Staff are told to talk with the students in a reassuring and discreet manner.

“Keep in mind that students may be embarrassed that they may not have adequate funds to purchase a meal,” according to a memo provided to cafeteria staff at all 177 schools. “All students should be communicated to in a manner that helps control any embarrassment to the greatest extent practicable.”

Wake school officials will try one of three options:

▪ Take money from a sibling’s account;

▪ Use pseudo-angel accounts/ghost accounts that PTAs may have set up to cover meals;

▪ Time permitting, allow the child to contact the parent about putting more money into the student’s prepaid account.

If money can’t be found, the student gets a free substitute meal of fruits, vegetables and water. The school board is scheduled to vote on this meal charges policy on Tuesday.

It’s unclear how many Wake school PTAs have set up accounts to cover student meal costs.

The recent national campaign to help cover unpaid lunch accounts was sparked by a December tweet by New York writer Ashley C. Ford.

“A cool thing you can do today is try to find out which of your local schools have kids with overdue lunch accounts and pay them off,” Ford tweeted.

In Minnesota, an online fundraising effort has paid almost $100,000 in lunch debt in Minneapolis schools and $28,000 in St. Paul’s. Donors, mostly anonymous, erased $6,000 in debts in Topeka, Kansas, $2,000 in Bellevue, Washington, $1,200 in Wilmington, Delaware, and $900 in Herminie, Pennsylvania.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

T. Keung Hui: 919-829-4534, @nckhui

How to help students pay for school meals

Wake County school officials say people who want to donate money to help students should contact schools to see if their PTAs have set up meal accounts.

To help Durham Public School students, email Jim Keaten, the district’s director of child nutrition at james.keaten@dpsnc.net about making a donation.

To help Chapel Hill-Carrboro students, call 919-867-8211 and ask for child nutrition services.

Lunch Angels NC accepts donations to pay off lunch debts for students in Durham and Orange counties and Chapel Hill-Carrboro. Go to https://www.facebook.com/Lunchangelsnc/ for information.

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