Unfortunately, stories about unpaid school lunch debts are becoming more and more prevalent. While the thought of schools trying to collect from families that are struggling is an upsetting thought, the truth is many districts are only trying to keep up with federal mandates meant to help ensure kids always have a warm meal, even if just once or twice a day.
The National School Lunch Program is a federal initiative aimed at providing free or low-cost meals to families that qualify, however parents need to apply for schools to receive the benefits. Much of the debt you hear about is money districts are required to repay the federal government for meals provided to those unable to pay that either never filled out the paperwork or simply couldn’t pay the reduced costs.
Recently, several wealthy benefactors have stepped up to pay off thousands of dollars in lunch debts in areas across the country, but it’s two sisters from North Carolina that are reminding us all that you don’t need to be a billionaire to pitch in.
Hailey and Hannah Hager are helping their local district pay down over $40,000 worth of lunch debts, only they’re doing it one cup of lemonade at a time.
The girls’ mother, Erin, purchased a lemonade stand for her daughters in order for them to raise money for causes they felt were important. Their first sale benefited an area hospice home, but while looking for their next recipient, the girls’ principal shared how students all around them could use a hand.
“I remember being begged [by school officials] at the beginning of the year to please fill out free and reduced lunch [forms], even if you think you might not qualify,” Erin recently told the Today Show. Without the documentation, the district is responsible for paying the USDA the full amount owed, putting additional strain on already tight school budgets. While that $40,000 is spread across 36 schools in the district, it’s still a difficult number to fathom.
So a few weeks ago, the two girls set their sights on first chipping away at the debt facing their own schools. During their first weekend, the pair raised $460 and as of today, have raised enough to pay off all the debts at Hannah’s school, Southwood Elementary.
Emily Lipe, Superintendent of Davidson County Schools, says they’ve been moved by what these two girls have been able to accomplish in such a short time. “We are incredibly proud of these girls for this tremendous show of selflessness, compassion, and willingness to be empathetic toward their peers.”
The girls say they’ll keep on going, moving next to the middle and high schools in their town, then shift to the remaining schools, paying off as much debt as possible.
“The goal is to raise as far as they can go to pay off the full [$41,000] debt. The possibility is endless,” says Erin. “Having so much support has been phenomenal. It’s very emotional.” A Facebook page and fundraiser has also been established and folks all over the country are now pitching in to help the sisters.
This is just another example of how making a difference isn’t something reserved for those with power or wealth. Oftentimes the biggest change starts with just a few people deciding to take the first step.