Local nonprofit All For Lunch is working to pay off school lunch debts in Georgia.
By: Lizzy Kidney
School lunch debt is an all-too-common reality for school districts across the nation. With many students facing unpaid balances for school meals, the practice of stigmatizing kids or “lunch shaming” has become a national issue. Suwanee native Alessandra Ferrara-Miller recognized the growing issue in our own community and created All For Lunch, a local nonprofit that works to wipe out delinquent accounts ensuring that no child goes hungry due to their family’s financial situation.
“For some of these kids, lunch is their only meal of the day and if they’re getting it taken away or only getting a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, it’s really hard on them,” Ferrara-Miller said. “Starting All For Lunch was emotional, exciting, and it felt so good to feel like we were helping to make a difference in our schools.” In its first year, the nonprofit paid off the lunch debts of 25 schools across three counties, and helped to start reserve accounts at each school to ensure students always have a warm lunch. We had the chance to meet up with Ferrara-Miller to learn more about how All For Lunch is impacting our community and her goals for 2020.
How did All For Lunch get started?
When my daughter was in kindergarten, I saw a news story that featured a little kid who was sent home with a stamp on his arm because he needed lunch money. Having a daughter that age made me think about how traumatizing that would be for a child who didn’t know any better. A child shouldn’t have to go hungry and be punished because of their family’s financial situation — something they have no control over. I began doing some more research and found out that so-called “lunch shaming” was a national issue. This broke my heart, so I decided I wanted to do something about it. That’s how All For Lunch was born.
What is All For Lunch’s mission?
The goal of All For Lunch is to help pay off students’ delinquent school lunch account balances. These unpaid balances are such a big problem and I want to get the word out about it to the community because no child should go hungry over a $2.50 meal. We serve to act as an emergency fund for all school lunch debt in the metro area, particularly with the help of recurring monthly donors.
Why is this program so important for our community?
One in five kids in Gwinnett County alone is living in food insecurity. However, Gwinnett County is unique n the way it handles delinquent accounts. Once your account balance goes delinquent by $11.25, you can only get the entree. You don’t get the option of sides or a drink, but you don’t have to return your food. Students who are on the reduced price lunch program pay only 40 cents per meal, meaning they could still get 28 full lunches before reaching that negative $11.25 balance. But even those 40 cents can be difficult for some parents. We helped to pay off $518.52 in delinquent lunch balances for the four North Gwinnett schools. Our mission is to guarantee these students have that meal at school regardless of their financial situation.
How many schools have you been able to help?
In the last year, we’ve been able to service 25 schools across three counties. We’ve made a total of 35 donations, meaning we’ve been able to go back and replenish a lot of these schools’ accounts. The majority of the schools we’ve donated to are in Gwinnett County, but we have also helped rid delinquent accounts in all Smyrna elementary schools and have recently moved into Roswell and Fulton counties.
What are some of your goals for 2020?
After doing this for a year, I have realized the importance of staying in touch with each donor school and we’ve found that the issue can’t be resolved with just one donation. Once the debt is paid off, it comes back after a few months since many families’ financial lives don’t change overnight. We’ve noticed this and have evolved to fund reserve accounts at each school. These reserves help to replenish school lunch accounts as they become delinquent. When students go through the line and their balance is in the negative, the cafeteria will have a button that will pull donation funds from that reserve account ensuring that the student’s meal is paid.
Since these funds diminish quickly, my goal for 2020 is to partner with businesses and corporations to help create reserve accounts at every school we’ve donated to. We are also looking forward to hosting community events, spirit nights, races, etc., to help reach our goal.
How can community members get involved?
All For Lunch is 100% donation based, and everything we raise goes directly into the schools. Any overhead that comes up I pay myself out of pocket. We rely heavily on community support. Anyone interested in helping out can go on our website and fill out information with the options to become a one-time donor, monthly sponsor, or if they are with a business they have the opportunity to become a sponsor quarterly or annually.
For more information about All for Lunch or to make a donation, visit AllForLunch.com.