“For I was hungry, and you gave me food: I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.” — Matthew 25:35
Bishop Stephen Thomas cites the words of Jesus when asked why a group of local ministers are getting behind an effort to help pay off school lunch
“We take those words to heart,” he said.
Thomas, president of the Concerned Clergy of Greater Whitfield County, and Bishop Reuben Graham, the group’s vice president, recently presented a check for $300 to the School Lunch Program Assistance Group. Marietta Hall started the program in February to help pay off unpaid school meal charges for Whitfield County Schools students.
School system policy requires that if elementary school students have five unpaid lunches and middle and high school students have three unpaid breakfasts or lunches, they will be given a cheese sandwich and milk if they can’t pay for lunch that day. Those who have money can pay for a full meal without having to make their account current.
School officials said they had to institute the policy because of the growing problem of students not paying for meals. At one point, the total outstanding fees for those unpaid lunches reached $73,000.
Hall said she was upset to find that some children were only being offered a cheese sandwich for lunch.
“When my husband passed away, I had three kids in school. I know what it’s like to be in that position. Some of those children are choosing not to eat at all, and that could be the only meal they would get that day,” she said. “I went today (last Thursday) and took care of my eighth student.”
Hall said she is working with school officials to identify those who can’t pay the charges, not students who may have been given money by their parents but chose not to pay.
Hall said many of the students are in families where the family incomes just barely exceed the limit for free or reduced lunches.
Graham said he is worried the students who are served a cheese sandwich will stand out and could be mocked or bullied by other students.
“We want to help, not just today but in the future,” he said.
Thomas said he hopes other churches will join in the effort to help pay off the school lunch charges.
“We want to encourage other churches, and really the community as a whole, to get involved. We feel like this a program that is necessary. A child who is hungry can’t learn,” he said.