The Crossville Noon Rotary Club paid off $3,500 in school lunch debt at local schools last week, the latest donation from its new Pay It Forward program.
“We’ve been banking [dues] for decades,” said Eric Ritzman, club president. “We’ve been looking to spend money that is left over.”
Other donations have included No Child Hungry and a donation to the food pantry at Roane State Community College.
Kathy Hamby, supervisor of the Cumberland County School Nutrition Program, thanked the club for their donation.
“This will be helpful for a lot of families in the community,” she said.
Hamby explained all Cumberland County schools offer students a free breakfast. Eight schools also provide a free lunch to students under the Community Eligibility Provision: North Cumberland, Pleasant Hill, Martin, Stone, Crab Orchard, Brown and Pine View elementary schools and The Phoenix School.
Under the Community Eligibility Provision, student-level meal charges are eliminated, though students can incur additional charges for extras; however, those extras can’t be charged. The program looks at the number of students participating in a means-tested assistance program, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or the number of homeless or migrant students. Schools with 40% of students directly certified by these other programs qualify for the provision, though Hamby said in 2015 when the program launched that 50% made it more successful.
The schools utilize family accounts that parents or guardians can add funds to. When the account has a negative balance, parents receive notification via the school messenger program, but students can charge breakfast and lunch.
Under the approved lunch procedures, student balances can reach a negative balance up to $20 before the teacher is informed the student’s next meal would be an alternative basic meal provided through the normal food line.
“We have cafeteria employees, teachers and other school staff who give money out of their pockets to help,” Hamby said.
“We in no way embarrass the kids,” she added. “The alternative meal is a mainline hot meal. We avoid this as a very last resort.”
When families are notified their balance has reached $20 in the red, the school system also contacts the Family Resource Center of the schools to provide help and makes sure parents apply for free or reduced meals to assist. The list of balances over $20 is provided to principals daily.
The school nutrition department also works with families on payment plans to take care of any balance
Schools have also implemented a community table cart with leftover, unopened foods and whole fruits.
The $3,500 from the Rotary Club will satisfy all outstanding balances at all Cumberland County Schools. Hamby said the funds would take care of teacher and staff charges.
“We have family accounts, so students at a community eligibility provision school could very possibly have a sibling in another school — especially at a high school that has charges,” Hamby explained.
The school nutrition program is funded through meal payments and state and federal funds. No local tax dollars are used in the program.
But the school system can’t end the year with money still owed, explained Director of Schools Janet Graham.
“This is a huge relief for our staff,” Graham said, adding they often have to spend a lot of time finding funds to settle the accounts by year-end.
The Crossville Noon Rotary Club also sponsors other school programs, including providing dictionaries for every third-grade student, sponsoring the fourth-grade character essay project, and awarding scholarships. They also provide two pairs of jeans, a book and a stuffed animal each Christmas to every student referred by the school system. This past year, they provided 1,054 pairs of bluejeans through the project.
Graham told the club, “You make like so much better for our children. You have no idea the impact you have on our students. Thank you for your many years of dedicated service.”