Community Paying Off Student Lunch Debt

File Photo

  LACEY – It all started with a cheese sandwich and a text exchange between friends.

  Two Lacey Township residents are looking to say “this one’s on us,” to all Lacey students with an outstanding school lunch balance.

  Almost one year ago to the day, on January 2, 2019, a photo of a plain cheese sandwich was posted to popular local Facebook page Lacey Township Chatter, with the caption: “This is the ‘lunch’ that the high school gives to anyone who owes $25 or more (Yes, it’s literally cheese on bread).”

  Once they saw the reality of the lunch situation, administrators of the Chatter page Carrie Hammer and Lena Skates connected with an idea: what if all of the student lunch debt was taken care of? Then students would have more options than the sad-looking cheese on bread option.

  On Dec. 12, Hammer and Skates put a year’s worth of thought into action by establishing a GoFundMe fundraiser for just that purpose. “New Year, No School Lunch Balances in Lacey Twp” has already raised over $9,000 of its $8,800 goal as of Dec. 30.

  According to Hammer and Skates, the Lacey Township School District lunch balance deficit is “currently hovering around a negative $9,000.” Using their position of sway within the social media community, the pair decided to share their endeavor with Chatter members, challenging them to help create a “clean slate” for students in 2020.

  “With as little as an $8 contribution from 1,100 people, our children and our schools can start out January 2020 without the burden of thousands of dollars in unpaid lunch accounts. All donations, minus GoFundMe service fees, will be paid out to Lacey Food Services – School Lunch Fairy Donation,” according to the GoFundMe.

  The GoFundMe comically uses a photo of a plain slice of bread with cheese on it, reading “Clean Slate 2020,” to emphasize their point.

  Some of the more sizeable donations so far have come from local eateries, a fitting sponsor for school lunch. Anthony’s Pizza & Grill in Lanoka Harbor donated $400 to the cause.

  Sweetberry Bowls of Lacey has donated $21 thus far, stating: “Everyday we will donate $1 of our Salad & Smoothie Bowl sales to “School Lunch Fairy Donation” program. As a community we are strong and the kids are loved. So visit the store and help us do some good for the kids in our home town.”

  As incentive and thanks for donating, Hammer and Skates continue to post a Top Ten Donation Leaderboard on the Lacey Township Chatter page, “in order to promote and advertise any of our local members or businesses that generously donate above & beyond to our campaign,” they stated.

  As of Dec. 17, the leaderboard showed Dr. Dennis Novak, MD in the lead with a $600 donation, followed close behind by Anthony’s Pizza.

  While big donations are always appreciated, these admins are looking for anyone – Chatter member or not – who can donate whatever they can afford.

  One donor commented: “No child should be shamed for not being able to afford a hot lunch!”

  Another echoed these sentiments, commenting: “No child should ever go hungry and no child should feel the burden or effects of financial challenges.”

  A former Lacey student wrote: “I went to Lacey. I know how hard it was to be in this situation. A little good goes a long way.”

  School lunch debt is not just a Lacey Township problem, or even a New Jersey problem. This is an issue nationwide.

  CNN cited the School Nutrition Association which estimates that 75 percent of US school districts are saddled with school meal debt.

  Hammer and Skates are following in the footsteps of many other good-hearted community members who have taken it upon themselves to unburden local students in this way. For example, a 5-year-old California girl sold cookies and cocoa to pay off the lunch debt of 123 of her classmates in early December, NBC reported.

  Similar to Lacey’s own, a mom in Bozeman, Montana raised $5,000 through GoFundMe to pay off school lunch balances in her school district, ABC reported.

  Hammer and Skates stated: “Thank you so much for helping our kids, our schools & our community! We are Lacey Strong!”