Thousands raised to help students erase school lunch debt in Utah

Posted at 4:19 PM, May 11, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-11 18:48:30-04

WEST JORDAN, Utah — Student lunch debt is an issue impacting thousands of Utah families, with nearly two million dollars in unpaid lunch bills.

DONATE NOW: Help erase student lunch debt in Utah

On Thursday, FOX 13 attempted to eliminate that burden with a donation blitz to help pay the debt for graduating seniors.

The debt affects communities all across the state, from Logan to St. George.

"They get a great lunch, a great breakfast, nutrition, variety; you can see what the kids are eating its a great meal it sustains them through the day," said Katie Bastian, director of nutrition services with the Jordan School District.

Watch as school official talks about importance of student lunches:

Discussion Lunch Debt

Fruits, vegetables and whole grains are all part of a meal that costs just $2 for students at Copper Hills High School. But over the course of a school year, that two bucks a day adds up.

"Our deficit this year is sitting at $10,000," said the school's assistant principal, Sterling Hunt, "its the largest its ever been."

With the bill now coming due, the district takes a compassionate approach and won’t harass families to pay.

"I know some districts will take families to collections," Hunt said. "We don’t do that. I know some districts say if you’re a senior with a balance due, you won’t be able to walk at graduation; we don’t do that either." 

Administrators will try to work with families who are struggling, and if all else fails, they will cover the cost. But that money comes from somewhere and can impact other areas of the school. That’s why it’s important for bills to be paid.

"We look at all the budgets available to us," said Hunt. "We see where we perhaps have money in those budgets to use."

A recent study by professors at the University of Utah and BYU found a healthy meals for all program in the state would cost about $51 million. If a program like that caused more students to eat at school, the cost could increase to more than $80 million.

"I hope people, when they consider this issue, think about the kids who come from families who really need this. We don’t all come from family situations that may be hard to see. What's $10? Why can’t a family cover $10 over the course of a couple days or weeks? We forget sometimes that families are really struggling in this process," said Lori Spruance, associate professor of public health nutrition at BYU.

Solutions are in the works.

Rep. Tyler Clancy of Provo tweeted FOX 13 News on Thursday claiming legislation is in the works to eliminate school lunch debt.

The student lunch bill didn’t exist for the past couple years because of federal COVID relief money. But the program ended in Utah this year and that's why this bill has come around again.

The joint study found 81% of nutrition professionals across the state support a free meals for all program if the funding were available.

Utahns didn't hesitate lending a helping hand, donating thousands of dollars to erase the lunch debt. After seeing FOX 13 News at Copper Hills High School, an anonymous donor reached out to officials and paid off all debt for the school’s seniors.