Studies have shown that students who attend school hungry have a harder time concentrating and don't perform as well. In the US, school lunches are not universally free, which disproportionately impacts middle and low income families. In some instances, schools will withhold a student's diploma until their lunch debt is paid.
One church in North Carolina has stepped up to help eliminate the burden of school lunch debt.
Rev. Dickie Spargo, the lead pastor of City Church in Gastonia, North Carolina, read about the number of students in the state with outstanding lunch debt and went into action. He and his congregation raised money to pay off thousands of dollars in student lunch debt in Gaston County Schools.
City Church raised more than $26,000 to pay off the $13,000 in lunch debt in Gaston County Schools. The overage will be used towards any debt incurred for the next school year. More than 400 congregants from the church donated the money in one week, Rev. Spargo said.
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Rev. Spargo, City Church said that he hopes this “generosity is contagious.”
In Gaston County, elementary students pay $2.90 per day for lunch, and middle and high school students pay $3.00. For K-12 students, breakfast costs $1.40 in the county.
While this amounts may seem small, it can be a burden for families to pay this daily, especially those struggling balancing rising costs elsewhere due to inflation. In addition, lunch fees are be particularly costly for families who have multiple students in K-12 students at the same time.
Moreover, as you may recall, during the pandemic, all schools offered free meals to all students due to federal waivers. But now, those families that don't meet family income levels are required to pay again. Surprisingly, families that could qualify are not completing the necessary paperwork. Roughly 90% of K-12 schools lunch programs report challenges in getting families to submit the forms.
Nearly 97% of school districts report seeing an increase in unpaid meal debt since the loss of the pandemic waiver.
Rev. Spargo said “The greater story is that we do have kids in our schools that are not getting a hot lunch. That is heartbreaking.”