Wyoming students had their school meal debt wiped out following a fundraiser by a nonprofit led by Wyoming first lady Jennie Gordon.
The Wyoming Hunger Initiative announced last Wednesday raised $99,485 to pay off school meal debt for students in 28 school districts. Gordon said she wanted to pay off meal debt after hearing about students who didn’t have enough money.
“The first time I heard about school lunch debt was from a food service worker who was telling me a story that really kind of shook me to the core about a child who didn’t have enough on their account,” Gordon told the Deseret News. “The food worker was instructed to hand the tray to the child and then pull it back and tell them they couldn’t afford it, which really hit me hard.”
Universal free lunch has been available during the pandemic through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the nonprofit’s donations will go to clearing previous school meal debt.
“Some children may not be able to graduate or other things to try to meet that debt,” Gordon said. “So to be able to do it now, the parents will go back next fall with a clean slate. The child doesn’t have to worry.”
The money was raised in partnership with the Mountain West Credit Union Foundation and National Military Vehicle Museum founder Dan Starks and his wife Cynthia, with donations from the Ellbogen Foundation, Republican Gov. Mark Gordon, and individual donors, Wyoming Hunger Initiative said.
Jennie Gordon said she became involved in fighting food insecurity as Wyoming’s first lady because she wanted to do something to help the children of the state.
“After traveling around the state and seeing so many communities that had food pantries packing bags for children to take home on the weekends, because most of them received a lot of their meals during the school week, I knew I wanted to kind of raise that awareness and also to find a way that, to help those folks,” she said.
Wyoming Hunger Initiative said about 86,000 residents face food insecurity, and Gordon said it’s something people hide and are embarrassed about.
“The thing I always tell people is, you know, we need to, to raise this awareness because hunger is really something that people can hide very easily,” she said. “A lot of people are kind of shy about. So just being aware and being able to reach out to your local pantry to see what help they need is so important because you may find yourself in that position some time and then to be able to pay it forward.”
As many as 12 million children live in households without enough food during the pandemic, according to the USDA, which announced in April it would extend free lunch through the the 2021-2022 school year.