HUTTO, Texas - A mother-daughter duo in Hutto has been working tirelessly to raise money to pay off school lunch debts in Central Texas.
When the fundraiser started, the women focused on paying off students' balances at Hutto elementary schools, but, now that so many people chipped in to help, they have since paid off 30 schools' meal balances in five different districts.
“This is a huge problem that nobody knew was a problem,” said Miranda Bennett who teamed up with her mother Tammy to help pay off student’s meal balances at local schools for a few years now.
Last year, three donors helped pay off lunch debt at five schools. This year, they reached six times that number.
“This is the first year that it's gained this much traction and has been noticed this much,” Bennett said.
“We've done a total of 30 campuses with a total of $7,574.59. So, pretty awesome,” she added.
The reason they chose to take on this task is simple.
“We should never have to even question if our kids are eating at school,” said Bennett.
When the women learned a first-grader had their hot breakfast exchanged for toast because the student had a negative meal balance, they couldn't stand the thought.
“I don't care why their account is negative, I don't care what the situation is, the only thing I care about is not letting a kid have food taken off their tray,” Bennett said.
After looking into ways to help, they learned it wasn't possible to pay off meal debt specific to one student.
“So you have to pay off an entire school,” said Bennett.
It was a lofty goal, but one they were willing to take on and still are, even after paying off several elementary and middle schools in Manor, Comfort, Taylor, Round Rock, and Hutto.
“As long as people are still interested in helping us, we'll keep doing it,” Bennett said.
The amount of traction their Facebook fundraiser has received is encouraging.
“People started donating from all over the country,” said Bennett.
However, there is one thing that they have to keep in mind: paying off a school district's balance isn't a permanent fix.
“It only took 4-5 days for Hutto to be back to like 500-something dollars, so this is not a problem that goes away because people are donating. It's only going to go away when school districts’ change policies or reallocate funds, or whatever they have to do,” Bennett said.
Miranda and Tammy hope by bringing attention to the issue, communities will advocate for districts to make those changes.
“Eventually, this fundraiser should not be needed. No kid should ever worry about their lunch,” said Bennett.
Next week the pair will start working to pay off Austin Independent School District's student meal debt.
They also want to remind parents they can apply for free or reduced lunches for their kids online.