Founded in 1946, the National School Lunch Program helps local school systems provide free and reduced-price lunches to over 30 million children every school day. As of 2015, more than half of public school children were eligible for free or low-cost meals in schools. But because of hardships, many families above the poverty line, some eligible for low-cost meals, face challenges keeping up to date with payments for their children’s meal purchases.
Schools nationwide are faced with a challenge. Their food services programs are being saddled with debt from families that are past due on their lunch money. With no internal funding to help offset this cost, food service programs have tried efforts to alert parents to the past due amounts. CNN reports that districts have a few thousand to a few million of lunch debt, based on enrollment size.
According to a recent news story, 76% of school districts have children with school lunch debt. The term “lunch shaming” has been introduced to explain some tactics used by school systems. Students have their meals taken away publicly, replaced with a paper bag with alternate meals. Others stamp a child’s hand or place a sticker on their clothing. New Mexico is the first state to outlaw such tactics, and the USDA has issued advisories cautioning schools from shaming children.
No child should ever feel ostracized for being poor. Schools don’t have the luxury of forgiving this debt at the expense of academic programs. It is a difficult and delicate balancing act where truly nobody wins.
The family at PAPERbasket believes a little change can make a change in the life of a child. When a district (minimum population of 5,000 students) purchases an annual subscription to our suite of use tracking and EdTech ROI analysis tools, we will make an annual donation equal to 3% of the purchase price to the district’s school lunch fund account. The money will be used to pay back the debt of local families in need.
It’s not a terribly large sum of money, and is not the solution by itself. But even some smaller school systems will be able to cover hundreds of subsidized meals with that donation – potentially thousands for larger districts.
But our plan doesn’t end there. Our hope is that other subscription-based companies make similar pledges, donating 1-3% of their annual fees back to their customers to help offset this problem. If every subscription-based firm made such a commitment, tens of millions of dollars could be funneled back to schools to ensure children don’t go hungry, and don’t leave the cafeteria humiliated.