Unpaid school cafeteria bills prompt women’s group into action

Written by on Thursday, December 21, 2023

Lunch is not entirely free for most students, and that means arrears for many.

By Arlene Sweeting

Original Air Date: Dec. 20, 2023

Host: Many children and youth in public schools are unable to pay their cafeteria bills. Often school staff and teachers open their own wallets to make sure students are not hungry. Now a community group stepped in to help. WSLR News’ Arlene Sweeting has more on that.

Arlene Sweeting: Last week on Friday, members of the Suncoast Women of Action gathered at Emma E. Booker Elementary School to present the principal with a check of $1,000 for the cafeteria fund. Helen James, president of Suncoast Women of Action, explains how the donation came about.

Helen James: It was from the Newtown Conversation, this is what this donation came out of. We were having this discussion about the needs in the community, and what the needs are at Booker Elementary School.

AS: Ninety-five percent of students are on free and reduced lunch. That is the highest percentage of any school in Sarasota County. Principal Cameron Parker explains how some families come to be in arrears on their lunch payments.

Suncoast Women of Action at Emma E. Booker Elementary School.

Cameron Parker: There are certain students, if they have been adopted through foster care, certain programs where you’re automatically renewed every year for free and reduced lunch. For the majority of our parents, they have to reapply every year. So you might start the school year, the students go in, and our cafeteria manager, she’s so kind hearted that she doesn’t want our students to go without lunch. When you don’t pay, you get a cheese sandwich. But then everybody knows your cheese sandwich means you can’t afford lunch. So she’ll give them that lunch and they accrue charges. So with 95% free and reduced lunches, a really large portion, we have the most students that are on free and reduced lunch in the entire county. And even with that, the reduced means they still have to pay something – well, for some of these families. They can’t afford that something. So again, our students – everybody gets a lunch here. And what we do is we try to go out in the community and find ways to supplement that. So we’ll have students that will rack up $300 In charges $400 in charges. We don’t want any of our students to go hungry here. So what we do is go out in the community, and we had this event that was hosted by the Suncoast Women of Action a few weeks ago. We mentioned that, and right there at that event they promised to give our school $1,000 to help cover those charges, whenever students would go hungry.

AS: If anyone listening to this report would like to help, how can they best do that?

CP: So they could write a check, bring money into Emma E. Booker and just say that it goes to our cafeteria fund. That money would go directly to paying off cafeteria balances.

AS: This has been Arlene Sweeting, reporting for WSLR News.


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