Businesses, organizations, individuals pay $6,500 of student lunch debt in the Meade School District
RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - On September 30, 2022, the federal government canceled its pandemic-era school lunch program and reverted to reduced prices and free lunches for families fitting the criteria. Since the free lunches for all students ended, school lunch debt has returned. Across the Black Hills, businesses and individuals have donated money to schools to wipe out lunch debt.
“We’ve been carrying about $5,000 in debt this year, which is higher than normal years,” stated Rhonda Ramsdell, food services director for the Meade School District.
Before the COVID-era free school meal programs, the Meade School District logged about $4,500 in school lunch debt by the end of a typical school year. Now, that debt is higher, and there are still 2 months of school left.
Ramsdell says the district saw a 20% decrease in school lunch participation, this is mainly because meals are no longer free. Ramsdell adds that she believes parents see themselves just outside of the qualifications for reduced-price lunches because they received inflationary raises. Still, the School Nutrition Program criteria did not keep pace with inflation.
“We still have a lot of students that are food insecure. When they go home at night, we don’t know if they are going to get a decent meal, but at least if we can get them breakfast and lunch, they’ve got something,” said Ramsdell.
The school lunch debt has burdened the food services program, but businesses, organizations, and individuals have offered to pay the debt. “We’ve had about $6,500 of student debt paid off this year,” said Ramsdell.
One benefactor is Whitewood Creek Chiropractic.
“Getting to know the families in the area it [school lunches] is a need. School lunches and making sure our kiddos are fed is incredibly important,” said Kylee Johnson, co-owner/chiropractor of Whitewood Creek Chiropractic.
It started with a social media post from Whitewood Creek Chiropractic asking for nominations. That post attracted more than 100 comments. Owners Kylee and Will John Johnson decided to pick seven of the 16 schools nominated.
“Then we put all of the schools in a box and shuffled it around,” said Johnson, who was excited to help their community.
The lucky seven schools were Whitewood Elementary, Bison School District, Belle Fourche Middle School, Stagebarn Middle School, Agar-Blunt-Onida School District, Sturgis Brown High School, and Sturgis Elementary School.
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