Holiday donations helping to reduce students’ school lunch bills

Blake Glace, 8, eats lunch during bagged lunch day Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Bellefonte Elementary School.
Blake Glace, 8, eats lunch during bagged lunch day Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017 at Bellefonte Elementary School.

Giving food during the holidays happens all the time: a plate of cookies to a neighbor, cheese-of-the-month to a hard-to-shop-for relative, canned goods to a food bank.

But in two local school districts, donations are being accepted for a different kind of gift.

Bald Eagle Area and Bellefonte are both raising money to help decrease students’ school lunch bills.

Lunch? How much can lunch cost? It can add up.

At Bellefonte, an elementary lunch is $2.30 per day and secondary lunches are $2.65. At Bald Eagle schools, the prices are $1.85 apiece for elementary students and $2 for secondary. Breakfasts are 90 cents at Bald Eagle and $1 at Bellefonte, regardless of level.

That translates to $9.25 to $10 per week for one Bald Eagle student and $11.50 to $13.25 per week at Bellefonte for lunch alone. By the end of the year, that can mean hundreds of dollars in chicken nuggets, apples and milk. With breakfast, too, the final tally can approach $600 for just one child.

For some people, that’s not a big deal. For others, it’s a pinch.

Laura Frye runs the food services for both districts. Between the two, about 40 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced lunches, she said, but a lot of others are not quite there, leaving them without a helping hand.

“Any family can understand when they have an unexpected auto expense or something, it really makes the holidays chilling,” Frye said.

That’s where the donations can make an impact, and it’s not something entirely new.

“Our community has always given so much to the children in our schools and their kindness has known no limit,” said Bellefonte Elementary Principal Jennifer Brown. “We have had anonymous donors in previous years pay off children’s food accounts that were overdrawn. The families and students of our district are so thankful and appreciative of the community support they receive.”

Frye said the more organized plan for this year isn’t about opening up the books and letting a donor pick out a kid whose account is behind. Instead, it’s about creating a kind of communal fund that someone might contribute to, and letting that fund spread the wealth across the pool.

She also said that if people wanted to pick out one school and contribute to its student lunch debts, that was possible. Frye just wants to see people have a chance to invest their holiday season goodwill back into the schools — and the kids — and maybe take advantage of some last-minute tax deductions or employer-matching contributions.

“There are a lot of alumni that have good feelings about the place where they grew up,” she said.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce