ENGLEWOOD, Ohio (WDTN) – A Miami Valley church is donating tens of thousands of dollars to area school districts to forgive outstanding lunch debt. But the Northmont school district says that debt is a challenging issue that won’t be solved right away.
Northmont is one of nine districts that Salem Church is helping, erasing the money owed by hundreds of families. A Northmont administrator says new debt will start accruing quickly, and this is a fight that won’t be won with a single check.
Pam Pearson is the Food Service Director at Northmont City Schools. She says, “We would love for all students to be able to eat free. It would make everybody’s lives easier.”
Unfortunately for Northmont City Schools, too many families hover just above the threshold and do not qualify for free and reduced meals. Pearson says, “They’re right there on the verge where they need help but maybe they don’t always have the money right when the student is coming through lunch or breakfast and they find that they have no money.”
Each school district operates differently. In Northmont, middle schoolers have a two-charge limit and high schoolers have a one-charge limit. That’s when the school tries to contact family members to address the debt. Pearson says, “Our biggest issue is our elementary schools, because we have a no-charge limit for them.”
Northmont always provides meals for students, even if they have outstanding debt, but it’s a challenging, fluid issue. The district serves more than 4,000 lunches every day. As of Wednesday, the soon-to-be-forgiven debt stood at $3319.45.
Pearson says, “I was a manager at the middle school and would always have my own money there, so you would give your own money before you’d see a student be without.” Reasons for not paying vary in Northmont. Pearson says oftentimes adults are busy and forget to pay, but other times it’s more serious. “They’re struggling at this point and they don’t have any food at home to send, and they know that we will feed their student here.”
Pearson says the district has gotten donations in the past, but Salem Church’s contribution will be by far the largest they’ve ever received. She says she’s grateful that this initiative is starting a conversation about school lunch debt.