The School District of Maple launched an Angel Fund in March to provide a helping hand to families with negative meal account balances.
“We just want to be there for people if they’re struggling,” said Wendy Stauty, human resources manager for the district.
The program is driven by school guidance counselors, principals and staff who recommend families they think may be going through a tough time. The family is then asked to fill out an application for free and reduced price meals, to see if they qualify.
“If they’re eligible to have free and reduced lunch, we want to be certain they’re taking advantage of that,” Stauty said. “We’ll help them even if they’re not eligible.”.
The bill is never paid anonymously; the family is made aware. It’s a one-time gift.
To date, $3,140 has been donated to the Angel Fund and $416 has been paid out to cancel the debt of three families.
“Since it’s so new, I think we have to get our staff used to it,” Stauty said. “We want them to use it more.”
The fund can only be used for current negative meal balances, although it’s an ongoing issue. Stauty said the district has accumulated $5,582 in negative balances that have been rolled over from year to year for more than a decade. It’s something food service director Jody Botten has worked hard to get under control.
Donations to the Angel Fund have been steady. Every time it’s been highlighted in the district newsletter, people have stepped up to contribute.
“Our community is very supportive of this,” Stauty said.
KIN, a nonprofit organization that helps school district families going through financial hardship, donated $1,000 to the Angel Fund in October. At the organization’s request, the school board altered the fund’s scope to allow the dollars to be used to pay for student activity fees as well as meal balances. Angel Fund donors can designate how or at which school it can be spent, or leave the gift open-ended.
In addition to the Angel Fund, Stauty said anonymous donors have stepped up to provide $700 in targeted financial relief, most of it earmarked for negative meal balances at Iron River Elementary School.
Gifts to the Angel Fund are tax-deductible. Donors can send a check to School District of Maple District Office, Angel Fund, P.O. Box 188, Maple, WI 54854-0188.
Negative meal balance policy
Per Maple School District policy, parents are called when their student lunch balance is $20 in arrears. If payment is not made for students at Northwestern Middle School and both elementary schools, the district reaches out to parents and the children are allowed to continue eating as normal.
At Northwestern High School, parents are contacted a second time and students are not allowed to charge any more for meals. They can, however, pay daily for meals despite the negative balance.
A high school student with no money for lunch is offered a sandwich, milk and fruit.