Community helps to make sure school kids have money for lunch

A Pennsylvania school district is warning that children could end up in foster care if their parents do not pay overdue school lunch bills.
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DOTHAN, Ala. (WTVY) -- Most students eat breakfast and lunch at school, but what happens when students run out of funds or exceed their charge limits?

There are several answers to this question, but one thing's for sure in every case - when students' lunch accounts become low, it causes problems in the classroom.

“Research shows that if a child is hungry they can't think or they can't concentrate, so when teachers are trying to teach they're distracted because they are worried about where's my next meal is coming from, says Tonya Grier, Dothan City Schools’ director of children nutrition services.

Some students don't even know where they'll find the money.

If they can't pay right away the school system will allow elementary students 3 days’ worth of meals that they'll be billed for later.

Middle school students only get one day.

After that...

“We try to talk to the parents and then we give them an alternative choice. So that's pretty typical. Those are the steps you usually take if a student does get behind,” says Dothan Preparatory Academy principal Darius McKay.

For high school kids, there is no alternative lunch or charge option.

“The decision was made that high school kids are typically more responsible to be able to remember lunch money or they typically have more on hand pocket money as we call it,” says Grier.

Making sure students don't go hungry is an issue some people in the community are concerned about and they’re ready to help.

“We had an individual to reach out and what he did was he formed a group that collectively they were going to try to zero out the balances for several of the students,” says McKay.

Any lunch delinquency donations go into a school account.

“If a child comes through the line and they are over the limit the cashier line and they are over the limit the cashier is able to transfer money from the existing account that has money to that student,” says Grier.

The school would decide how often a student is allowed to use that account.

“That is one of the dangers of allowing kids to do that. Then they feel like there is no consequence if I don't have money because somebody else will cover it for me,” says Grier.

The community outreach is welcomed by school officials.

“Anything that the community can do to help assist our students whatever way that is we are certainly open to it,” says McKay.

This project is just getting started. Community members reached out to the child nutrition services director last week and so far, there have not been any major moves.

If you want to donate money for delinquent lunch accounts you can talk to the school's cafeteria manager or take the donation to Dothan City Schools' central office.