The Gaston County N.C. community is coming together to make sure children are fed. Local church donation wipes $13,000 student lunch debt.

School is a safe space to learn and develop. Without lunch five days a week, students are less likely to succeed.

Over the last few years, a nationwide program has helped make sure school lunch was free for every student. The program started during the COVID-19 pandemic and expired this passed summer. Now, families all over the United States have to pay for their own students’ lunches or apply for reduced price programs.

Student lunch debt is piling up and families are being forced to pay more and more. One church in Gaston County, North Carolina thought of a solution for this nationwide problem.

No One Can Be Asked to Learn on an Empty Stomach

In Gaston county, students owed $13,000 in lunch debt. The lead pastor at a local church, Dickie Spargo, was reading about the growing number of students who can’t afford lunch. He knew immediately a change needed to be made. “We decided that we were going to share it with our church and then just take up an offering and see what would happen,” Dickie said. 

In less than 2 weeks, the church community raised $23,000 for their students. The total was sent to Gaston County schools to eliminate the current lunch debt as well as help pay off any debt the next school year brings.

Dickie isn’t satisfied with only the debt being paid off. He, along with his community, are committed to getting to the root of the problem. He plans on reaching out to the state to find a solution. “There is no reason why a child in North Carolina should go without a hot meal. How can you learn on an empty stomach?” Dickie asked.

Students need to be fed twice during a school day. Without proper nutrition, they have more trouble learning and staying focused in class. In low-income areas, the community is helping in big ways to make sure each student gets lunch.

Alleviating the Weight of Debt on Families

Pastor Dickie Spargo isn’t the only Gaston County local looking to make a difference. Angela Calamia, the school nutrition director for Gaston County schools wants the public to help their students. “This is certainly an issue that we need help from the community,” Angela said.

With debt increasing each year, Angela urges parents and guardians to apply for free or reduced cost lunch programs. “Really you should apply, because you don’t know until you fill out the application. We will process your application right away.” She mentions, “If you do it in the morning, by lunch your child could have free lunch.”

Angela and the rest of the school board are doing all they can to help children stay fed. Pastor Spargo and his community are a key component in making sure student lunch debt weighs heavy on families. 

It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a start for the Gaston County community. The students get fed and their energy can be put towards further learning!