This Spring, the Lowcountry Blessing Box Project partnered with fellow non-profit organization I Heart Hungry Kids, as well as the Queen Street Hospitality Group, and the Charleston Restaurant Foundation for "Catch Up on Lunch" - a fundraising effort to repay past due lunch debt for public school children in Charleston, Dorchester, and Berkeley Counties. After raising more than $25,000, Catch Up on Lunch has paid off the entire past due lunch debt for all students at four schools:
- Flowertown Elementary - Dorchester County - $8,230.93
- Philip Simmons Elementary - Berkeley County - $5,017.40
- CE Williams Middle School - Charleston County - $7,298.12
- Stiles Point Elementary - Charleston County - $1,781.97
“As a restaurant family, we have a passion for feeding people, and we are always looking to help our community," McKensie Kish from Queen Street Hospitality Group said. "When we heard about ‘Catch Up On Lunch,’ there was no doubt that we wanted to lead the charge of fundraising through our family’s restaurants, 82 Queen and Swig & Swine. “Our efforts brought in more than $17,000 to kickstart this campaign. There is a lot of work left to do and too many children facing food insecurity. We challenge other area businesses to help fight this problem."
“It’s clear that many families are unable to keep up with the cost of school lunches," Katie Dahlheim, founder of the Lowcountry Blessing Box Project, said. "Schools are forced to choose between incurring the debt or feeding students. Since hungry students are unable to focus on their studies, most schools are choosing to give meals to students with past due balances. There are inconsistencies between schools in how lunch debt is tackled – some schools take away activities for students whose parents owe a debt or send the debt to collections. Moving forward we want to focus our efforts on long-term solutions to this problem such as increased awareness for free lunch programs and assistance with federal applications for reduced lunches.”
Large past due lunch balances place a huge burden on our schools to shift budgets and take funds from staff development, learning materials, arts programs, and other initiatives. It also places students at risk for lunch shaming, a practice in which students who have used up their school meal accounts are denied lunches, served cold or cheap food instead of a hot meal, or are sent home with stamps on their hands to remind their parents to settle their balances.
“When it comes to kids and hunger, the problem is more widespread than many people believe at first, and by raising awareness and funds we have made a great start,” Josh Silverman, Executive Director of I Heart Hungry Kids, said. “As the Catch Up On Lunch initiative goes forward in the next school year, our goal is to increase our impact on Tri-County school kids by creating more alliances in our community and by adapting the best practices of successful programs nationwide in combating lunch shaming and lunch debt.”
During the 2018-2019 school year, the Dorchester District 2, Berkeley County, and Charleston County School Districts had a combined total of about $600,000 in past due school lunch debt. Catch Up on Lunch raised funds through the support of hundreds of individuals, families, and businesses, as well as through "Spirit Nights" at local restaurants including 82 Queen, Swig and Swine, Muddy Waters Coffee, Fair Deal Grocery (“the Spot 47”), and Famulari's Pizza, where portions of the night's profits were donated to support the cause.
To learn more, visit www.catchuponlunch.com