Getting rid of lunch debt

Newly priced lunch has caused lunch debt among students

Story by John Lee

With the worry of COVID-19 slowly dissipating in our everyday lives, aspects of the school day have changed as well. Specifically the way in which lunch functions.

“They did the free lunch because of COVID, and that was a two year thing,” cafeteria staff member Michelle Palmer said. “The federal government decided it wasn’t needed anymore, so that’s why we went back to the [paid] lunch.”

This sudden shift back into the way things were pre-COVID also forced the cafeteria workers to undergo some changes in the way they work.

“When it was free lunch, all we had to do was check mark people,” Palmer said. “We didn’t have to have the system where you put your lunch code in. But now, the federal government has stopped that.”

But now, with students having to pay for their lunch, there also comes difficulty in affordability. The district has also taken this into consideration and provided an alternative lunch option with reduced payment for those who can’t afford it.

“Most people, if they fill out the paperwork, would qualify for reduced, but we still feed them,” Palmer said.

However, not all students and parents find out about this paperwork.. Debt from the lack of exposure of this reduced form, as well as debt from before COVID, stacks up to an unbelievable amount.

“I was made aware that students at Pittsburg Community Middle School had a collective lunch deficit of $915,” English teacher at PCMS Angela Lewis said. 

With this new information, Lewis took the steps toward getting rid of the collective debt. 

“I thought I could try to raise that amount so students who still owed money before COVID could once again eat a hot lunch at school,” Lewis said.

According to Lewis, she was able to get rid of this deficit because of the help and aid of the community.

“After administrative approval, I quickly made a Facebook posting about this issue and asked for donations to cover the $915,” Lewis said. “Once I posted on Facebook, the $915 was donated by a very kind, generous, active community member. It took eight minutes for that to happen.”

She aimed even higher and tried to get rid of the entire district’s deficit of $1500. Not long after, she found that the debt was even higher than originally estimated.

“Within five minutes, that total was paid off. However, I later found out the district debt was actually more than that.  And unfortunately, the amount owed by students grows each day,” Lewis said. 

With this new information, Lewis has raised even more money with the help of the community, far exceeding the real deficit of $3950. 

“As of today, people have donated $4770,” Lewis said. “Anything raised from here forward will be paid toward the ongoing deficit. I am launching the “Adopt a Dragon” program. This would be a donation of $100 to cover a hot, school lunch every day until winter break.”

Despite the amount of trouble this sudden change in policy may have caused, the community as a whole was able to come together in order to make things easier for anyone and everyone. 

“I cannot show my gratitude enough for what people have done for our students in USD 250,” Lewis said. “We are beyond blessed to have such dedicated, caring, and generous community members.”