The Coast News Group

Donors pay off school lunch debts for students

VISTA — Cheese pizza, hand-rolled chicken burritos, pork carnitas nachos and spicy crispy chicken salad are some of the healthy items that students line up for at lunch time at Vista schools. Paying for nutritious, reduced price school lunches is sometimes a challenge for low-income families.

When families become delinquent on lunch payments the school district arranges a payback plan that allows families to catch up on overdue balances. At the end of the school year the district must pay the remaining balance of funds due from its general fund budget.

While all efforts are made to work with families, the overdue bills can be a source of stress for families struggling to make ends meet.

To help ease families’ burdens two community members recently stepped up and paid off the lunch debts at three elementary schools. Together they donated just under $600 and zeroed out amounts due for 70 students at Beaumont Elementary, Maryland Elementary and Olive Elementary.

Nutritious free or reduced lunches are provided to 62 percent of Vista Unified School District students. School breakfasts and lunches are often students primary and most stable food source.

The district recognizes this and strives to provide quality meals with plenty of fresh farm to table fruits and vegetables.

Benefits of good nutrition are increased attention to school assignments and reduced illnesses.

“Students that are hungry can have problems focusing in school,  which is something we do not want to see,” Jamie Phillips, school district director of child nutrition services, said. “We want to make sure students have access to fruits and vegetables as this can help reduce the risk of many chronic diseases.”

One of the community donors who stepped up said they heard of the idea of paying off school lunch debts on social media and wanted to do the same.

The second donor works at Beaumont Elementary. Isabel Xochihua, a school aide, said she wanted to help families who are having a difficult time get caught up on their payments. On her last day of work before taking time off to battle recurring cancer she made a donation. 

School principals said they are grateful and deeply appreciative of the donors generosity.

“What a wonderful way to support the students at Maryland and make an impact in their lives,” Carol McKane, Maryland Elementary principal, said. “We don’t always think about the things that may be affecting families, such as a negative food balance. To know that this is off their plate is a relief for them.”

Stephanie Vasquez, Olive Elementary principal, echoed the accolades.

“Being able to share with a family the good news that a lingering debt has been paid sends a positive message that their child’s success matters,” Vasquez said. “It’s what living in a thoughtful and caring community is all about.”

Across the district delinquent lunch fees add up to $15,000 a year. Due to the importance of childhood nutrition, tardy payments are addressed with parents and do not affect students receiving daily lunches.