Church helps school pay lunch debt

December 28, 2005|by KAREN HANNA

Bester Elementary School, which has the highest level of poverty in the Washington County Public school system, racked up the biggest lunch debt last year. A church helped pay off about half of the deficit, and the school paid the rest, according to an administrator.

According to figures provided by Gary Dodds, food and nutrition services supervisor, lunches charged at the Bester Elementary School cafeteria made up $1,863.25 of the school system's total deficit of about $6,200, as of June. Trinity Bible Church on East Antietam Street donated $900 toward the deficit, Dodds and representatives from the church said Thursday.

"Basically we're doing it to help the kids because it's a hard thing for a kid to go to school and possibly not have a hot meal," Pastor Betty Jones said.


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.

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