Austin, Minn., searches for ‘guardian lunch angels’

The head of food services in Austin, Minn., has a pretty good idea: asking residents to, basically, adopt a school lunch.

Mary Weikum has created the Lunch Tray Project to help families who make too much money to qualify for free and/or reduced lunches at school. That’s any family that grosses more than $2,500 a month, according to the Austin Daily Herald.

So she wants every kid — she figures there’s about 40 — to have a “guardian lunch angel.”

A little known fact, she said, is how many Austin residents regularly contact the school to offer to pay for negative balances in the food program.

“We might have someone call one day and ask what our negative balance is,” she said. “And that’s all it takes – they write a check.”

She is hoping that donors – or perhaps organizations – will offer to help pay for a child’s annual lunch cost this year.

“At $450 a year, we believe that people will step up; Austin is a very giving community.”

“These are the kids who are lost in the shuffle, they’re the children whose families are working hard but just don’t make enough” to be able to pay for a hot lunch.

  • BReynolds33

    Quick question: Why don’t we just feed the kids? I mean, we require them to be there by law, if they leave they get punished, and yet… we don’t feed them.

  • Guest

    I am of two minds on this. IF you don’t qualify for getting your children a free lunch program thru the government and you don’t pay for hot lunch for your child……What is wrong with sending a bag lunch?

    I understand the bother to make a school lunch at home, but I don’t understand asking others to buy your child a hot lunch.

    I truly do applaud those who volunteer to pay negative balances.

    I wonder what the annual beer budget is for these parents too strapped to provide lunch (when being above the free lunch programs rules).

    • Kassie

      They probably don’t have the money for sending a bag lunch either. Many kids do not eat at home on weekends or in the evenings because there is no money for food. Maybe not every night, but they skip meals. If the parent doesn’t have the couple bucks for lunch, they probably don’t have the money for a loaf of bread, peanut butter, apples and milk.

    • Lindsey

      A hot lunch costs about $2.60 in high school, so probably slightly less for other students. It is hard to pack a peanut-free lunch for less than $2.60 that has 600-700 calories.

      Also, who cares what their beer budget is? You would punish the kid for the parent’s sins?

      • Guest

        These are ONLY folks who make over $30,000 a year per free lunch guidelines.

        My choosing to not pay for a child’s lunch is nowhere near “punish the kid”

        • True, 30k sounds like a lot. But there’s two important things to remember:

          1) That’s gross income, not net income.
          2) That’s household income, not individual income.

          It’s not much for a family. The federal poverty level for a family of four is $25,100.

          The median rent is about $700 but only about a third of the housing stock in the area is rental. So given the median and the market, it wouldn’t be unheard of to figure that a family of four is paying about $1,000 a month just for rent, maybe another $100 -$150 for electricity and utilities. If they own the home, another $200 for taxes . A family of four at minium is probably eating $100-$150 a week if they’re REALLY stretching it. Car payment to get to work, gas, clothing etc…. and now you’re pretty much tapped out.

          It’s not a lot.

          • Guest

            It is a “livable wage” for the $15 an hour folks. I grant you car troubles etc. can squeeze a family, but a loaf of bread and peanut butter has to be way down on the list of things unable to afford.

          • Jerry

            Kids should probably live on more than bread and peanut butter

          • Lindsey

            Peanuts aren’t allowed in many schools.

            15 dollars an hour is a livable wage for one person on one income or for two people with two incomes, but not for for a family.

          • Guest

            $30,000 for one person, $60,000 for two? So where does entry-level wage fit in?

      • Guest

        Beer budget is my reference to wondering if beer is more “affordable” for the family than school lunch. A guess that many other items over the course of a year can be skipped before a child’s lunch (hot or bag).

    • // What is wrong with sending a bag lunch?

      That’s actually answered in the story .

      • Guest

        Please include that section in these comments. I don’t see anything about a bag lunch in the story.

        • She refers to the kids bringing sack lunches tend not to be eating very healthy things. And, really, to your point, there’s not a lot of nutrition in a peanut butter sandwich.

          • Kassie

            I forget about it too, but as Lindsay points out, peanut butter isn’t actually allowed in most schools. So a butter sandwich?

          • Guest

            nothing about bag or sack lunches in the article?????

          • Sixth paragraph from the bottom.

          • From the linked article:

            “Today, these students get by – they might bring a sack lunch, or come with inexpensive items that aren’t particularly healthy.”

          • Guest

            Thank you. Odd it is not visible in my browser.

    • Meghan

      I don’t really see how speculating whether parents spend money on beer instead of food for their children is helpful. And that’s all it is, pure speculation. It’s not really a good argument for why kids shouldn’t have their lunches subsidized. You don’t know what’s going on with these families’ budgets, and tsk tsking the parents for hypothetically buying beer instead of food is pointless.

    • Jack

      Education results improve as a result of children getting proper nutrition. Long term health is much better with proper nutrition.

      The reasonable thing to do is provide the children with nutritious meals at school. The cost/benefit analysis comes out high on the benefit side.

      If one argues that the long-term health isn’t the worry of the nation of the whole, that is a mistake. We all pay more in health care costs to cater for health issues caused by poor nutrition.

      So which would you rather pay for? I vote with my dollars toward supporting food programs in the state. Just ask the Food Group and Meals on Wheels.

  • chlost

    I would imagine that every school district needs some lunch angels. Too bad kids have to be looking for that in order to ensure lunch each day.

  • Guest

    OK, here it goes: How do we support the needy without making more needy people? When government supplies a lot of support, you find folks are fine with living off that support.

    I propose government trade all income-based benefits for a guaranteed job for those able to work. Those who choose that job fine, those who don’t choose that job are free to find their own work…..or not.

    This would also make every other employer out there have to offer a more appealing job, either easier or paying better.

    No more dependency traps, no more millions with nothing but a warm couch to show for it.

    It was splendid for the WPA and CCC.

    Please comment on the downside to work for all. There may be aspects I haven’t seen 🙂

    • The reason we feed the kids is so we can educate them. The answer isn’t making them dig ditches. It’s fully commit to the only way out. Fully. Commit.

      • Guest

        NOT asking kids to dig ditches, asking parents to work at clearing snow from bus stops, pulling buckthorn, caring for children of those doing it. Basic county needs, likely unskilled.

        • lusophone

          That’s not the point of this story. The people being helped here are ALREADY WORKING. People doing jobs like the ones you listed don’t make enough to pay the bills.

          • Guest

            Sorta my point, a government job at X level means all other jobs must be better than X level or folks won’t show up.

            Think declaring a minimum and then backing it up with actual work instead of trying to have sooo many programs to help the poor.

          • lusophone

            If we can’t even pay some pittance for school lunches what makes you think a socialized workforce will gain any support.

    • Kassie

      So MFIP, which is the Minnesota version of cash assistance, has work requirements for the adults if they are able to work. They either have to be working, prove they are actively looking for work, or taking a training program that prepares them for work, which includes things like high school or GED classes.

      SNAP, formally known as food stamps, also has a work requirement for most adults who are able to work.

      Most people on benefits either are in school, working or unable to work due to disability or age. The problem isn’t the programs. The problem is that having a job doesn’t guarantee your kids will have food to eat every day.

      • Guest

        THAT is what I am liking, work requirements in return for benefits…….all benefits.

        • Farm subsidies too? How will that work?

          • Guest

            OOOHHH, I really like the idea of cutting farm subsidies also. I figured that was a lost cause tho. Transfer payments have BOTH an upside and a downside to society.

          • // , I really like the idea of cutting farm subsidies also

            Ah, so the real goal here is to cut.

          • Kassie

            And student financial aid! And the medical assistance that covers nursing home stays! And the group residential housing funds that pay for alcohol and drug treatment! And adoption assistance! My 90 year old WWII disabled Vet grandfather should have to WORK to get that VA benefit, dammit.

  • Mike Worcester

    As a taxpayer, my $$ goes to help pay for the federal lunch program to feed kids. As a step-parent, part of my household income goes to pay for our kids’ school meals. As a human being, I just cannot fathom why anyone thinks it is appropriate to shame the victims of parental stupidity by taking away — in front of other kids — their meal.