Groups pay off past-due student lunch debts at 4 Tri-County schools

Groups pay off past-due student lunch debts at 4 Tri-County schools
Four Lowcountry groups paid off more than $25,000 worth of student lunch debt at four area schools. (Source: Live 5)

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Four Lowcountry organizations raised more than $25,000 to pay the past-due balances for student lunches at four schools in Charleston, Berkeley and Dorchester Counties.

Nonprofit organizations The Lowcountry Blessing Box and I Heart Hungry Kids worked with Queen Street Hospitality Group and the Charleston Restaurant Foundation for the “Catch Up on Lunch” fundraising effort. The project was created to repay past-due lunch debt for public school children in the Tri-County area.

After raising the funds, the program paid off the entire past-due lunch debt for all students at these schools:

  • Flowertown Elementary - Dorchester County - $8,230.93
  • Philip Simmons Elementary - Berkeley County - $5,017.40
  • CE Williams Middle School - Charleston County - $7,298.12
  • Stiles Point Elementary - Charleston County - $1,781.97

“As a restaurant family, we have a passion for feeding people, and we are always looking to help our community," Queen Street Hospitality Group spokesperson McKensie Kish said. “When we heard about ‘Catch Up On Lunch’ there was no doubt that we wanted to lead the charge of fundraising through our family’s restaurants, 82 Queen and Swig & Swine. Our efforts brought in more than $17,000 to kickstart this campaign. There is a lot of work left to do and too many children facing food insecurity. We challenge other area businesses to help fight this problem.”

“It’s clear that many families are unable to keep up with the cost of school lunches," Lowcountry Blessing Box Project Founder Katie Dahlheim said. "Schools are forced to choose between incurring the debt or feeding students. Since hungry students are unable to focus on their studies, most schools are choosing to give meals to students with past due balances.”

During the 2018-2019 school year, the Dorchester District 2, Berkeley County, and Charleston County School Districts had a combined total of about $600,000 in past due school lunch debt, according to a release from the organizations.

“When it comes to kids and hunger, the problem is more widespread than many people believe at first, and by raising awareness and funds we have made a great start,” I Heart Hungry Kids Executive Director Josh Silverman said. “As the Catch Up On Lunch initiative goes forward in the next school year, our goal is to increase our impact on Tri-County school kids by creating more alliances in our community and by adapting the best practices of successful programs nationwide in combating lunch shaming and lunch debt.”

“There are inconsistencies between schools in how lunch debt is tackled – some schools take away activities for students whose parents owe a debt or send the debt to collections," Dahlheim said. "Moving forward we want to focus our efforts on long-term solutions to this problem such as increased awareness for free lunch programs and assistance with federal applications for reduced lunches.”

The groups say large past due lunch balances place a huge burden on our schools to shift budgets and take funds from staff development, learning materials, arts programs and other initiatives. They also say the balances place students at risk for lunch shaming, a practice in which students who have used up their school meal accounts are denied lunches, served cold or cheap food instead of a hot meal, or are sent home with stamps on their hands to remind their parents to settle their balances.

Catch Up on Lunch raised funds through the support of hundreds of individuals, families, and businesses, as well as through “Spirit Nights” at local restaurants including 82 Queen, Swig and Swine, Muddy Waters Coffee, Fair Deal Grocery (“the Spot 47”), and Famulari’s Pizza, where portions of the night’s profits were donated to support the cause.

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