Local businesses pay $40k in lunch debt, do you qualify for free lunch assistance

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LANCASTER, Ohio (WCMH)–During the season of giving, many people in need are on the receiving end of gifts from strangers.

Most recently, four businessmen in the Lancaster area were moved to pay off nearly $40,000 in school lunch debt for students’ families.

Originally, business owner Chad Hutchinson stashed away some cash to pay for the debt of Lancaster City School District. He paid off $14,000 in unpaid lunches two years ago.

When he learned of this year’s price, he recruited three other business professionals to assist in the effort: Leonard Gorsuch, Monte Black, and Lloyd Helber, three former mentors of Hutchinson.

Hutchinson got the idea from a news story he read.

“I thought it was a cool thing and it’s able to spread the money over a wide distance of people,” he said. “I was raised poor, so I know what it’s like to be in a situation when you don’t have enough.”

He said he gives credit to the community for the prosperity his company enjoys and feels blessed to have excess income, which is why he shares it.

“Well, that’s the kind of people they are, though. They are just fantastic,” said Steven Wigton, superintendent for Lancaster City Schools.

Wigton said he does not have a good answer for why families do not pay for their children’s lunches. Basically, the reason can run from forgetfulness, lack of money, or they just aren’t aware of having to pay.

“We do quite a bit to collect these debts,” he said. “We do letters home, phone calls home, and for whatever reason, they just haven’t paid their debts.”

Lancaster City Schools population is over 6,400 students and a little more than 49 percent of them utilize the free and reduced lunch program.

Karah Smith, the district’s food service supervisor, said, “We just know what’s coming next.”

The four men paid off the first half of the school year’s lunch debt. There is still another five months left before summer vacation begins.

“We just know that [non-payment] it’s going to continue,” said Smith.

Smith and Wigton both said that families should apply for the free and reduced lunch program. The application is merely a page long and the district processes all of the paperwork. The state and school districts will verify the information the family provides.

“The process is easy. You can apply online or a paper application can be sent home with the students,” said Smith. “I think everybody would be surprised that they would qualify for some type of help.”

If you earn $55,815 gross annually with five people living in the house, you would qualify for assistance through the program. An important note is that the people living in the house do not have to be dependents.

“For five people, that would be a hard amount of money for people to live off of plus pay for school lunch,” she said.

Hutchinson said that he would like to see people who cannot pay for their child’s lunch to get the help they need, adding he is happy and blessed he and his counterparts were able to help this time around.

“I’d rather give the money back to the community and let the people share in that, Merry Christmas,” he said with a smile while nodding his head.

Below is a list of schools and their applications for free or reduced lunch. Some applications are online and others have them in paper. Please note that the list of schools is not all inclusive. If your district is not here, be sure to call your school district office to learn how to apply.

Free & Reduced Lunch Online Applications

Amanda-Clearcreek Local Schools
Berne Union Local Schools
Bexley City Schools
Bloom-Carroll Local School District
Delaware City Schools
Dublin City Schools
Gahanna-Jefferson Public Schools
Groveport Madison Local School District
Hilliard City Schools
Jonathan Alder Local School District
Lancaster City Schools
Madison-Plains Schools
Newark City Schools
Olentangy Schools
Pickerington Schools
South-Western City School District
Upper Arlington City Schools
West Jefferson Local Schools
Worthington Schools

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