Community raises $85K to pay off lunch debt for students who’d be served cheese sandwiches

People were outraged when the Decatur, Georgia schools announced it would serve “alternative meals” to kids.

grilled cheese, decatur georgia, lunch debt

Kids eating lunch and a grilled chese sandwich.

School lunch debt is a big problem in the United States with nearly 30 million students unable to afford meals. An Education Data survey found that the average school meal debt in the U.S. is $180.60 per student.

The problem with school lunch debt is that it hurts in 2 ways. It puts children in the position of being shamed and humiliated for not having the money, leading many to skip lunch altogether. It also places a burden on school districts that have to pay off the debt.

The City Schools of Decatur in Georgia announced that kids with unpaid lunch debt would be served an “alternative meal” of a cheese sandwich and milk starting February 1. Middle and high school students would be served the sandwich after accumulating $10.50 in lunch debt and elementary students after they crossed the $9.75 threshold.

The district created the rule because the city had accumulated $88,000 in debt from unpaid lunches.

News about the cheese sandwich went viral, causing outrage among many who believed the children were being shamed for a situation beyond their control.

After the news went viral, Goodr CEO and Atlanta-area resident Jasmine Crowe-Houston set up a GoFundMe campaign to help raise money to pay off the school district’s debt so every child can have a nutritious meal.

Goodr is a national network united to help eliminate food waste and end world hunger.

I've launched a #GoFundMe to eliminate unpaid meal balances for kids at Decatur City Schools. No child should face embarrassment over a meal. Let's ensure every child enjoys lunch with dignity. 🍎 

“No child should ever go hungry or be subjected to unnecessary embarrassment due to financial constraints. I believe that every child deserves a full, nutritious meal to fuel their bodies and minds for a successful day of learning,” Crowe-Houston wrote on the GoFundMe page.

“That's why I've launched this GoFundMe campaign with the goal of raising $88,000 to eliminate the meal account balances for all students in need,” she continued. “Your generous contributions will directly impact these children, allowing them to enjoy a well-rounded meal like their peers and alleviating any potential embarrassment they may face.”

Just as the story about the cheese sandwiches caught the public’s attention, so did the plan to stop them. The GoFundMe page raised the money necessary to cancel the school lunch debt in just 2 days.

“My hands are shaking as I write this update this morning,” Crowe Houston wrote on GoFundMe. “My heart is overwhelmed with emotion, astonishment, and gratitude as I wake up to the incredible news that we've achieved our goal in under 48 hours! We can pay off all the meal balances and no cheese sandwiches!”

But after that announcement, Crowe-Houston learned that a corporate foundation had already stepped in to eliminate the school lunch debt. The Goodr CEO offered the money to the district to provide a fund for future lunch-debt problems the students may face, but the donation was declined.

The cheese sandwich story is a beautiful example of a community standing up to provide essential nutrition for children. However, it does raise an even larger question that begs to be answered: in the wealthiest country in the world, should school lunch debt even exist in the first place?

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