At most elementary schools, children who are unable to pay may charge meals twice, Dodds said. After that, cafeteria workers substitute the student's first-choice entree with a sandwich each time the child must charge a meal, he said. That has encouraged children and their parents to pay off their debts, Dodds said.
Because the Bester cafeteria does not comply with the system's policy of substituting main entrees when students do not have the money to pay for meals, the school is responsible for paying off any deficits it accrues, Dodds said. The church donation and money from a discretionary school fund combined to pay off the debt, he said.
At other schools, when children begin to rack up charges, Dodds said cafeteria workers try to contact parents and work out payment plans.
According to the Maryland State Department of Education, 34 percent of students in the school system filed applications and qualified for free and reduced-priced meals this year. That figure includes 3,809 elementary school students - 39 percent of the elementary-school population.
This year, the percentage of Bester students who qualify for free and reduced-priced led the county. According to the Maryland State Department of Education, about 79 percent of Bester's students are eligible for the federal meals program.
Kathy Reed, director of the women's ministry at the church, said the Mercy Bread Fund was created to help kids who fall "between the cracks," whose parents are struggling but are not eligible for lunch assistance.
"We don't want any child to not be able to have a good lunch at school because we feel it's important for a good education. You know, you can't learn if you're hungry," Reed said.
The Herald-Mail has reported that the church's sponsorship of school meals began in September 2002. Jones said the church, which has about 40 members, donates $100 a month to the school, and this year, it began giving $50 a month to Lincolnshire Elementary School.
Church members raise money for the Mercy Bread Fund through a craft sale, and all donations collected throughout the year toward the fund go to community projects, Jones said.