R-IV schools tackle lunch debt

Recent donations have knocked down the district’s lunch debt, but student accounts at Willow Springs Schools are currently carrying about $14,000 in unpaid meal fees. 
“We don’t punish the kid,” said Food Services Director Regina Roberts on Friday, “The kids eat everything else that every other kid is eating. We try to talk to the parents, but there are so many people out there who just can’t afford it.”
Lunch debt affects fifty percent of the student body, Roberts estimates. 
Full price lunches are $2.40, and breakfasts are $1.20. These prices are set by a federally regulated formula, Roberts said. 
Free and reduced lunch forms are available to every student, but sometimes families don’t qualify and sometimes parents simply do not fill in the form. 
“I highly encourage everyone to fill it out. You don’t know if you qualify or not,” Roberts said. 
Lunch debt rolls over from year to year, and the $14,000 Roberts mentioned is for the full 1,250 student body and does include debt from students who have withdrawn from the district.
Recent efforts to collect donations to pay off student lunch debt have totaled to more than $7,000. Roberts is grateful to report that these donations are coming not only from within the Willow Springs community, but from surrounding communities as well. 
Roberts said the school has been collecting donations since November. 
“We apply the money first to the kiddos on the reduced lunch program who can’t afford to pay those sums off… We’re here to take care of the kids, make sure they get a lunch, and they don’t have to worry about it.”
Reduced lunches cost forty cents – reduced breakfasts are thirty cents. 
During COVID, federal funding made it possible for the school district to hand out hot meals to any child in the school district. At the time, that may have been the only meal the child would have throughout the day. The COVID era funding has been gone for years, but the local food insecurity has never left. “That’s still a fact,” Roberts commented. “It’s always been a problem.”
To donate, contact Food Service Director Regina Roberts by calling 417-469-3260 ext. 414. All donations will remain anonymous.
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