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Locals unite to ease school lunch debts

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‘They’re just little kids,” said Patrice Fuller, owner of Beer Works, who along with Carbondalian April Spaulding spearheaded a fundraising campaign to pay off students’ lunch debts at the Carbondale Middle School.

Fuller and Spaulding recently delivered a check for the $4,300 donated so far to the Roaring Fork School District Food Service Director Michelle Hammond.

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Fuller clarified that $3,011 of the total paid off all middle school lunch debts, and the remaining money will be used for future food debts.

“People just kept coming in with small and large donations,” Fuller smiled, adding, “People were shocked that this problem exists in town and were eager to help out.”

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Hammond reported that 41 percent of the middle school children qualified for district assistance.

But how did this community effort get started?

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Fuller recalled chatting with a relative who runs a lunch room in another state. “I learned this problem was quite prevalent in schools around the country.”

She then discussed this with Spaulding, who both know of families with financial problems. Spaulding remembered, “Kids can have what is now called food insecurity.”

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The other issue kids then faced was “lunch shaming” and the stigma that followed. The American Bar Association explained this phrase refers to the overt identification and stigmatization of any student who does not have money to buy a school meal.

Most school districts including Colorado have banned this practice.

Hammond pointed to the current district policies — which can be found a rfsd.k12.co.us under the meal policy section.

The 32-member Nutrition Service Team works hard to uphold the department’s motto: “Nutrition is our Mission.” The department’s 11 busy kitchens serve over 2,400 meals daily at 13 district locations and features a regular rotation of meals that include student favorites like chicken enchiladas and pizza.

The Nutrition Service Department of Roaring Fork School District is a part of the National School Lunch Program and complies with USDA program regulations and mandates.                

The department supports student achievement by not only offering nutritious meals, but also by promoting overall wellness through breakfast programs, and nutrition education opportunities and by connecting students to their food through Farm to School and School Garden programs.

The district has free and reduced meal applications available in English or Spanish at all school offices and kitchens. Applications are also available at the Nutrition Office located at 1405 Grand Ave., Glenwood Springs. For more information, contact the bilingual free and reduced coordinator Silvia Barragan at sbarragan@rfschools.com or call 384-6016.

One statewide nonprofit, Hunger Free Colorado, has been around since 2009. Its goal is to connect families and individuals to food resources and fuels changes in systems, policies and social views, so no Coloradan goes hungry.

In addition, Chalkbeat Colorado, a new nonprofit organization covering public education, reported that the state plans to spend $2.2 million on lunch subsidies this school year. Expanding the program to high school students would cost an additional $464,000, with that money going into food service budgets.

So, with all these revised policies, why is there a need for private fundraising?

Just imagine this scenario: a family has serious woes making ends meet, but the total income exceeds the requirement for free or reduced meal prices. Yet, to pay for school lunches puts a severe strain on the family’s ability to pay other critical bills, like housing.

The students and their families in this or similar situations, Hammond said, can fall through the cracks, and the result could be no food at lunch. Hammond emphasized that all district students get the same lunch through eighth grade even if they don’t qualify for free or reduced price.

“We’ve never denied a meal,” she noted.

Now that more people are aware of this ongoing concern, Fuller and Spaulding confirmed they will hold additional fundraisers. Fuller, who has owned  the Beer Works for over three years, and Spaulding have worked together to host other community needs projects,

Fuller said “I’m fortunate to have a platform to bring all of us together.”

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