Lunch Tray Project a mission of health and heart

By Mary Weikum

Director of Food and Nutrition Services

The Lunch Tray Project is about an idea, numbers and heart.  It is about a community helping its children.  It is about nutrition, health, and learning.  It is about hardworking families.  It is also about gratitude.

The Lunch Tray Project’s mission is to help families who miss qualifying for free or reduced priced lunches by an amount that is smaller than what lunch would cost to purchase for the school year.

Last Spring, the Food & Nutrition Department went to the public asking for donations to sponsor a child’s lunch for a year.  To qualify, a family must have filled out an application for free/reduced priced lunches and missed qualifying by a small amount.  The Austin Daily Herald ran an article about the project and by 11 a.m. that same morning, we had our first donation!   The response from the community was amazing, and just shy of $10,000 was shortly in the account.

As our department processed applications this fall, we made a spreadsheet of all families that did not qualify.  At this point, it became all about the numbers.  When looking at the spreadsheet, it became clear that we could help people at different levels.  Students who missed qualifying by under $175 per family member were given the full amount for one year of lunches.  Other students who missed qualifying by $175 to $500 per family member were given either $250 of $150 in their accounts.  By using the funds this way, we were able to help 37 students throughout the district!

This money helped grandparents who have taken on the herculean task of raising grandchildren.  It helped families whose parents are working two jobs to try to get ahead.  It helped single moms and dads who are everything to their kids.  It helped families know that there are people who care and wish them success.

This story is also about heart.   It’s about a senior student who came to my office to say she had decided to do PSEO at Riverland and wouldn’t be at school for lunch, so could we please take back the money in her account and give it to another kid who might need it.  I know that while speaking to this articulate, thoughtful student, my heart grew a size or two.

The story is also about gratitude.  Gratitude to a community that takes care of their children.  Gratitude to churches, service clubs and the many individuals who sent money to this project.  It’s not possible to explain how much this meant to the families you helped.  The old saying is that it takes a village to raise a child.  I’ve never been prouder to be a part of our village.  Thank you, Austin.

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