Lunch shaming a nationwide problem, communities helping out

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Although school lunch costs approximately $3, many students don’t have enough money to buy the meal. According to the New York Times, The School Nutrition Association reports that over three quarters of schools had uncollected debt -- ranging from a few thousand dollars to $4.7 million. 

An unfortunate byproduct of lunch debt is lunch shaming, wherein lunches are thrown out in front of those that cannot pay, or a student must work off the debt. There have also been instances of students being forced to wear wristbands to signify they can’t afford their meal in states such as Alabama. On the other end of the spectrum, New Mexico recently outlawed the practice, and other states are introducing legislation as well.

Although the Hutto School District in Texas tries to be discreet about children with lunch debts, there are still plenty of open tabs. 

"What happens is the child brings their lunch up to the counter and if they don't have money there's a chance that they might have to put it down and that can be very embarrassing.  And we try as hard as we can to prevent that so having the nice citizens pay this off to keep that from happening which just makes things better for everyone," Director of Child Nutrition for Hutto ISD, Nancy Holland told FOX 7.

Children aren’t denied a meal in Hutto ISD, but they are given a basic meal of a ham sandwich, fruit, and a drink. However, for growing boys and girls that meal may not be enough. It is also a clear signifier regarding the child’s standing with their debt. It’s an extra label for kids to carry when there should be none at all.

"Horrible...I have to tell you that the people that work in our cafeterias I would say the majority of them do it because of how much they love it and how much they love the kids and they would never do anything...in fact they try to be very careful and very quiet when they have to tell someone that they have to put their lunch down," Holland said.

Recently, some charitable individuals took it upon themselves to remedy the situation -- people like Jamie Church and Cynthia Turnipseed.

Turnipseed used donations through a GoFundMe to pay off the balance at three elementary schools, and is working on clearing the rest of the district’s balance. 

"I think that's just the nurse in me.  I'm very giving and usually it's rescue groups and when I read that on Facebook I just decided to take that and run with it," Turnipseed.

Church says her business paid around $300 to Hutto Middle School and Ray Elementary.

Church said, “They were very confused at first. They were asking me, ‘What child? What student?’, And I was saying ‘All of them.’”

Whether shamed or discreetly declined a hot meal, chances are there is a child in your community that could use some help with a meal. You may not know them, but it’s a chance to go the extra mile for someone in the community. After all, school can be hard enough. 

Watch the video to see this how these women stepped up for their community.

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