The Kiwanis Club of Mesa Verde has joined businesses and individuals nationwide that have jumped in to help settle lunch fund debts.
The local nonprofit recently donated $1,250 to the Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1 to help the Nutrition Services department pay off its lunch debts. It also donated $1,250 said Sandi Vanhoutean, director of Nutrition Services for Re-1.
“I can say we really do appreciate the Kiwanis,” she said. “They have been so awesome. If it wasn’t for them, we would really be in debt.”
There are many families in the district with outstanding meal balances, Vanhoutean said, which adds up significantly in the overall budget.
Sometimes, at the beginning of the year, parents neglect to fill out applications for the free and reduced lunch program, and families who qualify for free meals might not be counted.
“At the beginning of the year, at registration, we have tables set up with the free and reduced Lunch app, trying to catch everybody we can,” she said.
And others who aren’t eligible for the federal program don’t pay, which also contributes to the debt, Vanhoutean said.
While each meal is charged, students are never denied a meal, no matter the account balance, she said.
“We are not going to refuse a child a meal,” she said.
Currently, elementary school lunch costs $2.75, while secondary lunch is $3. Elementary breakfast is $1.75, and secondary breakfast is $2.25.
Manaugh, Kemper, and Mesa elementaries also qualify for the federally funded Breakfast After the Bell Nutrition Program, or House Bill 13-1006. The bill was passed by the Colorado Legislature in 2013, requiring public schools with 70% or higher of students eligible for free or reduced price meals to offer free breakfasts for all students.
Also, as of this school year, all students PK-12 eligible for free or reduced price lunches now receive meals for free.
“It’s all free or paid,” Vanhoutean said.
Right now, even with the Kiwanis money, the debt stands at around $3,700, according to Vanhoutean.
The Kiwanis donation will go toward paying off students’ lunch debts, which carry over from year to year. Any amount leftover will then go toward helping out other struggling families – those who may not qualify for the free and reduced lunch program but for whom the payment is difficult.
“After we pay off outstanding balances like that, then we will put it toward paid kids that are struggling,” Vanhoutean said. “The parents – they make just a little too much money to be on either free or reduced, but it’s hard for them to pay for lunches every day.”
Lunch fund debt is an issue that many other school districts are facing right now.
“It’s an epidemic for all school districts, with lunch accounts not getting paid,” Vanhoutean said. “Every little bit helps.”