Miami Valley church raises thousands to erase student lunch debt at area schools

Local News

CLAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – A Miami Valley church is contributing tens of thousands of dollars to area schools to forgive school lunch debt. What started as a lesson in generosity has exploded into a movement that’s helping thousands of families, and Salem Church of God in Clayton did not expect this response. 

The church is delivering nine checks to area schools Thursday, and they’re hoping this effort sparks more generosity in others. 

Steve Southards is the lead pastor at Salem Church. He says, “We want to go looking for trouble in our community. We want to help right a wrong in our community.” Salem Church found an issue worth addressing in school lunch debt, when families cannot pay for student meals. 

The church began to make some calls and realized the problem was more widespread than they thought. Southards says, “When we heard the total of a couple of our neighboring school districts, we wondered if we had bit more than we could chew.” 

The church’s initial goal was modest: to try to chip away at the more-than $14k of debt between two districts. Southards says, “Let’s just help with the problem. Let’s just maybe see what we could do to raise some money to contribute to the buydown.” But in just four days, more than $34,000 has been collected from the congregation, and many people outside the church. 

And the total keeps growing. Southards says, “Then we had the privilege of calling more schools in our area, and we went from two schools that we’re able to eliminate the debt, and now we’re up to five schools.” 

So far Salem Church will deliver checks to nine school districts: Brookville, Northmont, Milton Union, New Lebanon, Vandalia-Butler, Tri-County North, Kettering, Franklin Monroe, and Troy. And they’re reaching out to more. 

Southards says, “The interesting thing about school debt is it’s a moving target, it goes up every day. While we’ve eliminated the debt now, tomorrow it’s going to go up again. We want to be a part of helping the families on an ongoing basis.” 

Before the interview Wednesday, a man came into church and committed $1,000 to the effort. You can click on this link to contribute

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