When Stephanie Hollis logged into her Greenville County Schools account, she noticed that her graduate senior still had about $ 35 in unused lunch money.
She saw a button that she could use to transfer the money to a sibling’s account, but since none of her other children were having lunch at school, she had another idea – why not donate?
“If they have a negative lunch balance, they get different lunches. And that’s just what a child shouldn’t have to worry about,” said Hollis. “So if we could give someone the $ 35.50 to make them a little less anxious and [have] a little less negative from an experience? That’s easy.”
Last year, all public students across the country received free breakfast and lunch at school a US Department of Agriculture scholarship. This scholarship has been extended to both the summer and the 2020-21 school year.
However, the debt for the earlier school luncheon persists – it follows the students through graduation. Families at Greenville County Schools owe $ 362,434 in school meals.
In previous years, students with negative food records received meals at school, but they were not hot meals. Since the introduction of the USDA grant, all students have received hot meals regardless of lunch debt.
Seniors with graduation debt could be prevented from attending their opening ceremonies, though Teri Brinkman, spokeswoman for Greenville County Schools, said it was rare. Community members who donate money to school food debts go primarily to senior graduates to prevent this from happening. Sometimes schools have scraps of money that they use to cancel a student’s debt.
When Hollis discovered she could donate her remaining balance towards a student’s debt, she posted it on social media on May 21.
Greenville County Schools donated about $ 800 for the lunch debt this year, and almost all of it came in in the days following Hollis’ social media post.
“Together we could all make a difference,” said Hollis. “Hopefully it gets bigger – I would really love it if you did this every year.”
She asked the district to consider adding a donation button next to the one that parents can use to send money to siblings. She knows some parents may have more credit left and need the money, but she hopes that even small credits donated could add up.
Joe Urban, director of food and nutrition services at Greenville County Schools, said adding the button was a decision that district administration must make after making sure it does not cause problems or legal ramifications.
School feeding programs are different from other departments in a district – schools often lose money on catering services. According to federal law, a school district’s food service program must be self-sufficient without relying on a district’s general fund. However, Urban said this is not always the case with many schools.
“Greenville, our program, doesn’t take money from our district. In fact, we’re giving them a ton of money back to cover all of these costs,” said Urban. “But that’s not the norm in school feeding programs.”
In a typical year, more than 60% of the Greenville County Schools food service budget comes from federal funds. The remainder is raised through the program, either through meals bought by students and teachers, or through other fundraising drives.
Even in years when the USDA National Scholarship has not been active, students whose families are below a certain income level are entitled to a free or discounted lunch. Greenville County Schools have 21 schools where meals are free for all students as they qualify for a free or discounted lunch to qualify the school for school USDA Community Eligibility Commission.
Urban hopes the USDA statewide scholarship will continue so that all students can have free meals.
Ariel Gilreath is a watchdog reporter who focuses on educational and family issues with The Greenville News and Independent Mail. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @ArielGilreath.