AUSTIN, Texas - What began as a school project for an Austin-area eighth grader has turned into an over $10,000 fundraising campaign to pay off school lunch debt. The St. Andrew’s Episcopal School student, Ben Hofer, said he became upset reading about lunch-shaming in Montana.
“I always thought, like, lunch was just a part of your day. And some kids can’t pay it -- that was pretty surprising to me.” Hofer, 14, explained. He wanted to know if lunch-shaming was something his neighbors at Austin ISD experienced.
Hofer discovered that lunch-shaming is not an issue at Austin ISD -- though lunch debt can be.
“In Austin ISD, we feed every child every day - regardless of their ability to pay. All children have access to the same high quality meals. And, when students are racking up lunch debt it affects our ability to continue to prepare and produce really good food.” explained Anneliese Tanner, the executive director of food service and warehouse operations for the Austin ISD.
As part of a project he calls “LunchCounts!” Hofer launched a GoFundMe campaign in April.
The campaign was initially designed to pay off school lunch debt in the three Austin ISD schools. One elementary, one middle and one high school -- with the most debt.
Hofer needed to raise $3,200 to pay off the debt.
Once he reached his goal, he says he decided, he did not want to stop. “We decided why not keep going because we decided we could raise more money to pay off [the debt of] more kids.”
Hofer’s new goal is to raise over $18,000. So far, he has raised over $10,000.
“[Lunch is] necessary to do well in academics and sports.” he said.
Thursday, the teen was presented a check at Blazier Elementary School, one of the original three schools he set out to raise funds for. The check for $1,000 came from Flyrite Chicken, a partner of Austin ISD. “You’re an inspiration for many, many young children in our community, thank you.” said
Leti Peña, the principal at Blazier Elementary School.