Charity paying off thousands in Prince William Co. school lunch debt

A local charity is working to let kids go back to school after the winter break free of lunch debt.

Lunch debt — debt owed to schools from kids whose parents can’t pay for their lunches — is high in Prince William County, Virginia. Adelle Settle told WTOP, “Right now in Prince William County there’s $300,000 in school lunch debt.”

Settle is a mother and said the idea of children not being able to afford lunch at school is heartbreaking, especially when she considers the “lunch shaming” that goes on at some schools where kids whose parents owe lunch money get a different lunch — a glaring symbol to everyone else in the lunchroom.

“When I look at my daughter, I would be horrified if she was ever told that she couldn’t have the regular nutritious balanced meal at school and instead was handed a cheese sandwich because her parents couldn’t afford to pay for that meal that day,” she said.

That’s why she formed the nonprofit Settle the Debt, to raise money to pay off some of that debt.

”We’ve already raised somewhere around $42,000, and that $42,000 has gone toward paying off a lunch debt of over 20 elementary schools in Prince William County and that’s paid off to zero,” she said. “All those kids are going to go back to school after winter break with no lunch debt.”

They also paid off another several thousand dollars toward three large high school debts.

“Our hope is to raise another $6,000 so that we can have three more elementary schools paid off by the end of winter break,” she said.

“I want to make sure that we are allowing our kids to avail themselves of every educational opportunity, and that means that they need to be fed to do that.”

The group goes to the school, asks to learn the total lunch debt, then pays the bill. They mostly work anonymously, as they don’t want to make families feel bad.

But occasionally, someone whose child’s lunch debt has been paid off finds them.

“One of our board members got an email from a teacher who was struggling and hadn’t been able to pay off her child’s balance at her public school,” said Settle. “It was very emotional and she was just incredibly grateful that we taking care of it because she had some extra money to spend for

Since they are a nonprofit, your donation is deductible if you’re looking for a last-minute 2019 tax write off.

Michelle Murillo

Michelle Murillo has been a part of the WTOP family since 2014. She started her career in Central Florida before working in radio in New York City and Philadelphia.

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