Some school districts in the St. Louis area are asking the community to help pay off student meal debt for families who can't afford daily lunches for their children.
More than 2,100 students in the Francis Howell School District collectively owe nearly $19,000 in their school lunch accounts. The district has asked community members to pitch in to a dedicated lunch debt fund, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .
Schools try to avoid "lunch shaming" students whose families haven't replenished their lunch accounts, and to prevent lunch debt from using up district money. Lunch shaming has gained nationwide attention amid stories of cafeteria workers throwing away food and giving sandwiches to students with no money.
Francis Howell isn't considered among the region's neediest districts but still has thousands of students from low-income families, making the meal debt issue especially sensitive to the district.
Students whose families' income is below certain thresholds can get free or reduced-price lunches. But school officials said that not all eligible families apply for such lunches. Some families may have incomes too high to qualify but still have tight budgets, and some may just forget to refill their children's lunch accounts.
The federal government last summer required all schools participating in federal meal programs to specifically outline in their meal policies how to handle student meal debt.
Districts are generally reluctant to force consequences on students for meal debt because of potential resulting negative publicity, said Tim Davis, director of food service for the Jefferson School District. He said officials also believe children should not be punished for something out of their control.
"No kid should ever be denied a meal because of a parent's lack of ability to pay," Davis said.