GREENSBORO — Students at Guilford County Schools in High Point won’t have to worry about any leftover meal debts as they head back to school this year.
A donor — who wants to remain anonymous — paid off all the outstanding meal charges for students at those schools. The donation to the district is $10,500, said Deena Hayes-Greene, chairwoman of the Guilford County Board of Education.
Hayes-Greene said the donor hopes others will chip in. About $35,000 in unpaid meal charges remains at other schools elsewhere in the county. Families whose meal balances have been paid will receive a letter letting them know they don’t owe the district anymore.
“We are so thankful for this person’s generosity and support of Guilford County Schools, and we hope it can be an inspiration to others,” Hayes-Greene said.
Angie Henry, the district’s chief financial officer, said this year’s lunch debt is similar to what it has been in the last few years: it typically averages about $30,000 to $40,000.
The district, she said, has a policy of allowing elementary and middle school students to charge up to five lunches and five breakfasts even if they don’t have the money to pay for them. After that, if they can’t pay, Henry said, the cafeterias start giving them a pared down, cheaper version of the daily meal. High school students can’t charge meals, so they go without if they don’t have the money, a district spokesman said. However, some schools have “Angel Funds” where community members donated money to help cover the cost of meals in those cases.
Many students qualify for federally-funded free meals based on family need, or they go to a school in a high-poverty area where free lunch is offered for everyone. Those students don’t have to worry about this issue, Henry said.
However, she said, some families experience a dramatic change to their finances in the middle of the year. They may not know that they can and should apply for free or reduced price lunch when that happens, rather than sending students to school without.
School staff work to let families know about the charges and find out about any crises or concerns that could be affecting their ability to pay for a student’s meals, Henry said.
Henry said she has no way of knowing how many unpaid lunch debts are due to financial hardship, versus forgetfulness or some other issue.
Regardless, the meal debt does cost the district. Any unpaid meal debt the schools can’t collect by Sept. 30 has to be paid for out of the school district’s general fund. So the mystery donor’s gift helps both the families and the district.
“Ten thousand dollars doesn’t sound like a lot, but it could be books, it could be paper,” Henry said. “It could be any kind of supply or materials that we need.”