Here’s some good news for a change (and Lord knows we need it).
When a real estate agent found out nearly 400 children in his nearby community did not have access to a proper lunch because their families had accumulated lunch debt, he decided to pay it off for all of them.
CBS 12 reports Andrew Levy met with officials from the School District of Palm Beach County and paid off the outstanding debt in all nine Jupiter area public schools, the community where most of his real estate business is centered.
“These children that were in debt were going to either not eat or they would get just cheese sandwiches and I thought that’s crazy," he said. “I thought you know something? If for a modest sum I could make that change, I’m gonna do it.”
The total bill was $944.34.
Levy has decided to make this a regular thing.
“Every quarter, I’m going to do either a GoFundMe page or a fundraising page that can raise money every quarter, so lunch debt never accumulates so that children never have to worry about a hot meal and parents never have to worry about paying the bill," he said.
It’s worrying however that students are accumulating lunch debt at all. Supposedly, we have “safety nets” for this.
Nationally, the federal government spends over $20 billion annually on child nutrition programs including the School Breakfast and National School Lunch programs. Meals are provided at no or low cost for qualifying students. Nearly 15 million students participate in the breakfast program, and almost 30 million participate in the lunch program.
NBC News reports “lunch debt is a longstanding problem for families and schools across the country. Students who just miss the cut off for free school meals in the National School Breakfast Program and National School Lunch Program and qualify for reduced-price school meals can be charged a maximum of 30 cents per day for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch. Those who do not qualify for reduced-price school meals are charged the meal price set by the district. Both of these groups can accrue school lunch debt.”
Close to 45 million Americans also participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – formerly known as Food Stamps).
How is it that despite having these programs, children are accruing lunch debt at all?
According to the Fiscal Year 2018 report for the Palm Beach County School’s food service department, 67.5 percent of students in the district qualified for the free or reduced-price programs.
There’s no report on how many of the 400 students Levy helped qualified for the reduced-price program, or had to pay full price. Did their parents or legal guardians not know assistance programs were available? Were they unable to pack a lunch for their children on one day or many? Did the children not know the money they were given for lunch was supposed to be for lunch?
There’s probably a different story for every child Levy’s generosity helped. And no doubt there are thousands more across the country in need, for a thousand different reasons.
But God bless people like Andrew Levy who step up to the (lunch) plate.