Good Deed of the Month

Kim Norvell:

JOHNSTON, Iowa — An anonymous donor has paid off lunch debts for 148 Johnston elementary school students whose accounts were in the red by $10 or more.

The donation, totaling $13,250, was made Jan. 9. It benefited students in kindergarten through fifth grade in all five Johnston elementary schools, said Laura Sprague, director of communications.

“This donation is quite critical for families who need some extra help,” she said. ” … When the belly is full, the kids can have a much better day. And for some students who may be in a food insecure situation, school meals are essential to their nutrition.”

Of the 3,130 elementary school students in Johnston, 595 qualify for free or reduced lunch. That represents about 19 percent of the younger student population.

About 16 percent of students districtwide qualify for food assistance. There are students in sixth through 12th grades with negative lunch balances, but the donor specifically wanted to help the district’s elementary students, Sprague said.

“People don’t really perceive Johnston as having this need, but there are definitely families who depend on this program,” she said, adding the percentage of students who qualify increases every year. Five years ago, about 12 percent of Johnston students were on free or reduced lunch, she said.

When a student’s lunch account runs low, the district sends reminders home to parents. The lunch clerk and principal also call home, and free-and-reduced-lunch applications are provided. The district encourages families to apply for assistance if it’s needed, Sprague said. An elementary lunch is $2.70; the reduced price is 40 cents.

The Johnston Partnership also runs a program called Friday Friends that provides a packet of food for students to eat over the weekend. Each backpack costs around $8.15 per week and the program relies on donations.

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