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West Ada School District fundraising to take a bite out of student meal debt

A person wearing a denim jacket standing in front of a school lunch tray with a burrito, beans and a red apple. Their hand is on a keypad.
Morgan Lee

The West Ada School District this month announced its Helping Hungry Minds campaign aimed at assisting kids who rely on school cafeterias for meals but can’t always pay.

Unpaid meal balances held in the state’s largest district eclipsed $100,000 last school year. So far this year, the district is on pace for double that amount according to West Ada School Nutrition Supervisor Anne Brock.

“It is our policy to feed a child that gets in our lunch line, we do not turn a student away based on their free/reduced status or meal account balance,” she wrote by email.

Meal-based debt accrues as students continue to be fed regardless of their ability to pay. This is common in many school districts across the country.

Donors eliminated the previous school years’ debt last summer. The new fundraising campaign asks the community to sponsor a day, week or longer period of meal costs.

One lunch, for example, costs $2.80. A month of lunches costs $58.80. Breakfasts cost about two-thirds the price of lunches.

“Donating to Helping Hungry Minds helps ensure that all West Ada students can thrive in the classroom, and it’s a great way to spread kindness and generosity this holiday season,” Brock said in a news release announcing the campaign.

No Kid Hungry, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy nonprofit, reports students who eat school breakfast make it to class more often and score higher in standardized tests than the average student.

Brock said the district is continuing to work on finding cost efficiencies in nutritious meal planning. It’s encouraging parents to fill out applications for free or reduced cost meals and is reaching out to families directly to help fight negative meal balances.

“It is our hope, as well as all school nutrition professionals, to see universal free meals. We would love nothing more than to be able to solely focus on feeding kids,” she said.

The fundraising campaign will run through December, donations may be made by mail or in person at district headquarters, or through the giving page at westada.org. Gifts should include a note specifying that the funds are for school nutrition services. Donations are processed by the West Ada Education Foundation.

Troy Oppie is a reporter and local host of 'All Things Considered' for Boise State Public Radio News.

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