PALMER — Laura Sampson, a local food writer and mother of three, recently raised more than $1,600 to help pay off student lunch debt at Swanson and Sherrod Elementary schools. She’s poised to keep this momentum going to help other schools in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District.
“Laura’s generosity is very inspiring,” MSBSD Public Information Officer Jillian Morrissey said via email.
Sampson said that her efforts started after hearing a lot of news about unpaid lunch debt across the United States. She said that she has three boys of her own.
“I know how kids are. They’re always hungry,” Sampson said with a laugh.
Sampson said that it felt like this was a huge problem even at the district level, but instead of focusing on eradicating all lunch debt in some grand scheme, she decided to chip away at it the best she could.
“You can make small changes to big problems,” Sampson said.
Sampson asked administration at Swanson and Sherrod about the unpaid lunch debt. According to Morrissey, 36 Valley schools are served by Nutrition Services.
“At those schools, on average, there is about $1,100 of debt from school lunches,” Morrissey said.
Last month, Sampson started raising funds from the online crowdsourcing website, GoFundMe. It took off immediately, pleasantly surprising Sampson with the amount of public outpour over the cause.
“It was eye opening to see who cares,” Sampson said.
Over the span of 26 days, 47 people donated a total of $1,608, well past Sampson’s original $700 goal. She said that she met her goal within 24 hours.
On May 16, Sampson posted an update to her page, stating that she stopped by the two schools to drop off the donations.
“I stopped at the schools today and paid off the school lunch debt. It was an amazing feeling to know we were helping families have a little less stress. One school had a little more debt for some reduced fee lunches so we paid that off as well,” Sampson stated in the update.
Sampson said that she plans to make this an annual tradition, raising funds for different schools around the district at the end of each school year. She said that she was happy to find out the no child in the district is ever denied a meal, no matter how much lingering debt they have.
Morrissey said that families are notified weekly if their child accumulates a balance. The district will still provide a meal or ala carte option to students, regardless of whether or not they can cover the charge.
“One of the great things about school lunches is that no one should go hungry. In our district, if a student’s family needs support getting school lunch, the family or principal can fill out free and reduced lunch form for a student,” Morrissey said.
Sampson said that she hopes this campaign and her continued efforts help inspire other people to follow suit and help raise money for their local schools.
“I’m not out to change the world. I’m out to change a little bit,” Sampson said.
Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at firstname.lastname@example.org