Local girl aims to eliminate school lunch debt

Matt DeYoung • Dec 11, 2017 at 10:00 AM

Sara Bergeron and her 11-year-old daughter, Lexi, were watching the news late last week when they saw a clip about student debt at school lunchrooms.

Lexi, who had been making and selling small fidget toys — earning $10 in the process — told her mom she’d like to donate her earnings to help those children.

“She said, ‘Well, Mommy, what if I gave my money to help?’” Bergeron said. “I said, ‘Honey, that would be a great idea, but how about if we do it for the kids at your school who don’t have lunch?’”

That hatched the plan to help eliminate the school lunch debt at Ferry Elementary School in Grand Haven. According to numbers Bergeron received from the school, Ferry had $188 in debt — kids who can’t pay for hot lunches they’ve already received. That total districtwide is more than $2,000.

While Lexi’s $10 was a start, her mother decided to start a GoFundMe page. That page, “Filling tummies of school friends,” has already raised $383.

Bergeron said she knows what it’s like to struggle financially.

“We’re a low-income family ourselves, so we do get the free lunch program, but we really hadn’t known too much about the debt before now,” she said. “When Lexi saw that there were other kids at school who weren’t eating, that hurt her heart.”

Bergeron said she was “overwhelmed” by the support her GoFundMe page has received.

“I thought this would just be something small we could do to help our community, and it’s turned into something much bigger,” she said. “I’m so proud of (Lexi). I don’t have the words.”

The Bergerons aren’t the only ones taking this cause to heart. Jennifer Schippers, the store manager at the Little Caesars restaurant in Spring Lake, will host a fundraiser on Wednesday, Dec. 13. A percentage of the pizza restaurant’s sales that day will go toward school lunch debt in Spring Lake. Schippers was told there’s $180 in debt at Holmes Elementary School and more than $600 at Jeffers Elementary School.

Representatives from both Grand Haven and Spring Lake schools declined to share specific numbers regarding their school lunch debt. Both said that they don’t seek funds to help with such things, although they’re happy to accept donations.

“It is not Grand Haven’s policy to seek funds through GoFundMe or other internet sources,” said Sarah Stone, director of food services at Grand Haven Area Public Schools. “However, we have accepted donations from area businesses and community members to help pay off lunch debt. We are truly thankful and blessed to be in such a wonderful, caring community.”

Stone noted that if a family is going through a financial hardship, they can fill out a free and reduced application, which is available online at www.lunchapp.com.

“If a family doesn’t qualify for free and reduced meals, or needs help filling one out, we hope they will be in contact with the food services office so we can help assist them to the best of our ability,” Stone said.

Meaghan Beyer, the food service director for Spring Lake Public Schools, echoed many of Stone’s statements.

“Spring Lake food service does not seek funds through outside sources,” Beyer said. “However, we are approached by community members and groups that want to donate to students with negative balances, especially around the holiday season. We do accept these donations and distribute those funds to students with the most need. We highly recommend families that are going through financial hardship to fill out a free and reduced lunch application.”

Beyer said she has been contacted by the local Little Caesars, and said all money donated from this fundraiser will go directly into students’ accounts.

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