WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) -- A West Warwick business owner was denied her offer to pay off school lunch debt in Warwick after raising thousands of dollars to put an end to "lunch shaming."
In March 2018, the owner of Gel's Kitchen Angelica Penta started a money jar to help students who struggle to afford lunch. She said West Warwick Public Schools accepted a check of $4,000 from her which will be applied at the end of the year, but Warwick Public Schools would not accept her donation.
“When I went to Warwick, it wasn’t so simple. They basically said they couldn’t take my check because people would get upset if their child’s lunch was being paid for," Penta said.
In a statement, Warwick Public Schools said, "it was not in the position to single out or identify specific students that should be selected for a reduction in their lunch debt while excluding others."
Penta said she met with Warwick school officials twice to discuss alternative uses for the money that were related to the same cause, but they wouldn't budge.
"There is no need for any child to be denied a hot lunch," Penta said in a Facebook post. "We never know a child's or their families situation, everyone struggles at some point."
Warwick schools said the policy in place right now is that if a student cannot afford lunch, a sunbutter and jelly sandwich will be given as a lunch choice until the balance is paid in full or a payment plan is set up.
“To me, a sunbutter and jelly sandwich is lunch shaming, because you're basically telling all the other kids that you can’t afford lunch and you don’t have any lunch money," Penta explained.
Warwick Public Schools said officials suggested Penta create a program which would decide which students were eligible to have their account reduced or expunged, but Penta did not like that idea.
"The business owner has maintained a position that they want to make a single, large donation to the district while leaving the student selection process to the school department," Warwick Public Schools said in a statement. "This is a position that the school department cannot support given the school's mission to treat all children equitably."
Penta said in her post that she plans to expand her donation program to other cities and towns in Rhode Island, but right now she is working with West Warwick and Warwick only since that is where the donation jars are located.
She said in the meantime, anyone who needs help affording lunch in Warwick should contact her.
A GoFundMe page was created to raise money to pay off the school lunch debt. So far it has raise more than $11,000.