Warwick to begin lunch money grant program with excess donations

West Bay

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The Warwick School Committee has decided how they will equitably distribute donations made towards the city’s excessive amount of school lunch debt.

According to Chairwoman Karen Bachus, all donations will be split between 1,653 accounts, which means each student will receive up to $24. She said the rest of this money will be applied to free and reduced lunch.

The district’s excessive school lunch debt made national headlines in March 2018 when Angelica Penta, owner of Gel’s Kitchen, started a money jar to help students who struggle to afford lunch in West Warwick. She eventually expanded it to include Warwick as well.

More than a year later, she was the first to present both West Warwick and Warwick schools with a donation of $4,000. West Warwick Public Schools accepted the check from her and said they will apply it to their school lunch debt at the end of the year. Warwick Public Schools initially denied her donation but changed their mind after receiving public backlash.

So far, Bachus said the district has received $40,101 in donations. The majority of those donations came from the hosts of “The Talk” and CBS corporate, who pledged to donate $40,000.

Recently, the CEO of Chobani said he would donate $47,000 to help pay off lunch debt in the district. A GoFundMe page set up for the district has already raised more than $57,000. As of Tuesday, neither of the donations have been received by the Warwick School Committee.

Bachus said any leftover money or additional donations will go into a school lunch fund for lunch grants.

Director of Finance and Operations for Warwick Public Schools Anthony Ferrucci said by April 30, the district had racked up $78,000 in lunch debt, including $13,000 from students who receive free lunch, $3,700 from students who receive reduced lunch and $62,000 from students who pay full price.

As of Tuesday, Ferrucci said the district has collected $13,600 in paid lunch debt, lowering the total to $61,500.

The Warwick School Committee also reaffirmed its new school lunch policy after scrapping a modified version they were using to curb student lunch debt. The previous policy provided students who could not pay for their lunch a sunflower butter and jelly sandwich until they were able to pay off their balance or set up a payment plan.

The new policy ensures no student will be the victim of lunch shaming, which is defined as taking back a student’s meal if they can’t pay for it. It provides students with their choice of hot or cold lunch regardless of their account balance.

Those interested in applying for a lunch grant should contact the Warwick schools’ superintendent.

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