If a hungry student were to approach a Boise School District cafeteria worker and ask for a lunch they can’t pay for, the district has a plan: Feed the student.
The district has developed a system of credits, plus donations from a little-known Boise nonprofit called Feed the Gap, that keep the food coming and paid for.
“We have made it seamless to the student in the line,” said Peggy Bodnar, district supervisor for food and nutrition services.
Feeding a student who can’t pay became a hot issue this month when a Pocatello middle school cafeteria worker was fired after she gave away a lunch to a student who didn’t have any money. The story went viral and resulted in an online petition with more than 70,000 signatures calling on the district to rehire her. The Pocatello/Chubbuck School District has since offered the cafeteria worker her job back.
Federal rules govern how districts provide food to students and schools have to be careful about who gets discounted or free food. So districts have a variety of ways they may deal with students who come to lunch with no money.
But Boise’s ties with a group whose No. 1 focus is to make sure hungry students get a school lunch is unusual.
“It’s a gift,” said Bodnar, who sits on Feed the Gap’s board.
We feed hungry children who do not qualify for federal free and reduced (meals) in their school.
Anne Glass, founder of Feed the Gap
Feed the Gap was founded by Anne Glass, a Boisean who grew up in Jordan Valley and worked as a money manager and a consultant. She wanted to help people after going through tough times with a health problem that ended her business career.
“When life takes a turn, you can get upset about it or look at it as an opportunity,” she said. “This is the biggest opportunity of my life.”
She and a group of nearly 30 Idaho business professionals dedicate their time and money — at no cost — to running the nonprofit. Feed the Gap also has received support from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation, the Idaho Community Foundation and the Idaho Woman’s Charitable Foundation, Glass said.
Feed the Gap began with a pilot program in the Boise School District nearly two years ago. It expanded this year to the Marsing and Emmett school districts. Glass said there are plans to expand to other Treasure Valley districts and eventually statewide.
“We are working with the schools because that is where the kids are,” Glass said.
In November, Feed The Gap covered more than $3,000 in school lunches and breakfasts to 300 Boise students who consumed 1,500 meals
Here is how the Boise School District system works:
All students have a lunch account. If students have no money in the account, they can charge up to $15 at elementary and junior highs and $5 at high schools for meals, while the district alerts parents to credit the account.
Once the child has gone through the $15, the district can use Feed the Gap funds to continue feeding the child while the school contacts parents, Bodnar said.
Glass said Feed the Gap’s money goes to students who are not covered under the federal free and reduced lunch program, which is based on a family’s income.
At 22 schools in the Boise district, all lunches are provided without cost under a government program that allows an entire school to qualify for a free lunch program.