Free lunch is not always free, but thanks to the generosity of the Austin public, it is in the Austin Independent School District. Austin360 reported that "of the 80,000 meals served through AISD each day, about 700 of them are "courtesy meals" delivered to children whose lunch balance is less than zero. That's right. Almost 700 students each day don't have enough money for lunch.
A courtesy meal is essentially a cold lunch of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or a salad with milk and a vegetable. Not the worst lunch in the world, but when your lunch mate is chowing down on BBQ or pizza, it can be an embarrassing situation. One, thankfully, no student attending an AISD school will have to face again this school year.
According to Austin360, more than $10,000 in donations were collected in just 24 hours, paying off the debt of every student's lunch account in the Austin Independent School District for the remainder of the school year.
On average, costs for student meals are $1.50 for a full-price breakfast and $2.70 for full-price lunch at elementary schools. It is slightly more, $2.85, for full-price lunch at middle and high schools.
The district spends somewhere between $350,000-$500,000 per year in cold lunches to students with a negative balance. That is an average of $14,000 per day.
Anneliese Tanner, director of AISD's nutrition and food services department explained that when her department received inquiries on how to help with the lunch debt, AISD decided to set up a crowd-sourced online donation destination through EdBacker.com.
"The EdBacker was setup to create an easy way for people to help out across the entire district, which also helps to offset the donations that may be more plentiful in neighborhoods with more resources."
After Austin360 reported on the district's lunch situation and the creation of the donation site, the public felt a call to action. Over 250 people donated over $10,000, exactly what was needed to settle the delinquent accounts.
While the funds are certainly appreciated, Ms. Tanner explained to Austin360 that the dilemma is not over for the district.
"We're very appreciative of the generous support of the community to help us expand healthy food access. This amount will successfully clear the current negative lunch account balances. While this funding helps with the current need, negative balances are an ongoing issue, as they accrue daily.
Our primary focus is ensuring no student goes without a balanced meal, regardless of their account balance and payment status, and we will continue to provide nutritious meals to students who have exhausted their meal accounts."
The next time you'd like to do something good for the community, call the local school closest to you, or the biggest one in your area, and ask how many lunch accounts are in delinquency. If that information isn't released, state you'd like to make a donation to the general lunch fund the school has in place. You'll feed a child and keep the school system one less debt down.
Anything as little as $2.00 would be a step in the right direction. What can you do for your community today?
This post was originally published on April 12, 2017.