Peggy Gordon and Mike Taylor are teaming up to help families with students in Henrico County Public Schools stay on top of their lunch accounts.
Gordon, the school system’s director of school nutrition services, and Taylor, executive director of the Henrico Education Foundation Inc., are partnering in the Let’s Feed Kids fund, where people can donate money to help eliminate negative meal debts.
The Foundation started the fund last fall to help “facilitate donors that want to make a difference,” says Taylor.
Founded in 1993, the Foundation is an independent nonprofit community-based organization that provides resources and educational programs in the Henrico County Public Schools. The fund is just one of the Foundation’s many initiatives. “The Foundation has a public-private partnership with the school system,” explains Taylor. “We want to prepare students for college, career and community.”
It’s been obvious to Gordon that people in the community want to help with negative meal debt but “they just don’t know how to do it,” she says. “This Fund is a conduit that helps them help the schools.”
There are many families in Henrico with kids in schools throughout the county that don’t qualify for free and reduced lunches. “These tend to be families on the bubble struggling to pay bills and make ends meet,” Taylor says. “There are about 22,000 students in Henrico that are financially disadvantaged.”
Last year the school system had $19,000 in past due meal charges countywide for all grades. As of this writing there are about 4,800 kids with negative debt for a total of $16,000.
“We are projecting that negative debt will be $30,000 to $35,000 by the end of the school year,” Taylor says.
A lot of people “don’t realize there is a need out there,” Gordon adds. “The donations help eliminate the stigma and embarrassment.”
Liz Farber of Henrico is the mother of two students who attend Henrico County schools. She says she appreciates the socioeconomic diversity of her kids’ classrooms and likes the new opportunity to help families and kids.
“I like being able to designate a school or classroom so I can support my family’s public school community,” says Farber. “I know there are a lot of families in Henrico who need support, and paying off a past-due lunch account will be a great way to give people one less thing to worry about.”
The women working in school nutrition in each school’s kitchen “hate the fact that children might go without eating because of their meal debt. They want to feed them all,” Gordon says, adding that kids become stressed and have trouble learning when they are hungry. “We want to feed them and not let them have any drama.”
Last year the school system received $3,000 in donations, which impacted 1,200 kids. “This year we have $1,500 so far,” Gordon says.
Negative meal debt is fluid. It goes up and down every day. “It’s in all grade levels,” Gordon says, noting that people can donate to a class, grade or school. “We had one group that wanted to eliminate all meal debt for seniors. If seniors have any type of debt, they can’t participate in graduation.”
Students can buy two meals a day – breakfast for $1.50 and lunch for $2.80 A $25 donation, for example, pays for about nine meals. “Every little bit helps,” Taylor says. “We also have an option for folks to sign up monthly. They can pay $5 to $10 a month on our secure autopay.
You can donate and support Let’s Feed Kids at the Henrico Education Foundation website. Donations can also be mailed to Henrico Education Foundation, Let’s Feed Kids Fund, P. O. Box 38488, Henrico, VA 23231.
“We have seen a lot of interest in this program,” Taylor says. “Since the first of February we have had about forty gifts.”
The program is a good vehicle for “people who want to do something and may not have thought about this as something they want to do,” Gordon says. “What’s better than feeding kids?”