2 women launch effort to help pay school lunch debts for county students

Unsplash, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — In an effort to help out local families struggling from financial impacts amid the COVID-19 pandemic, two local women started a Facebook page to raise money to pay off outstanding lunch balances for families in the Washington County School District.

A spreadsheet showing money raised to pay off school lunch balances for families with children in the Washington County School District, St. George, Utah, May 19, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Sydni Makemo, St. George News

So far, the two women, Sydni Makemo and Kenzie Carter, have raised just over $8,000 toward the $15,476.86 of total debt since they started the effort May 6.

Makemo told St. George News that Carter came to her a few weeks ago concerned about an email she had received from the school district, a general reminder to parents that it was time to pay off any remaining school lunch debts.

“She was just really concerned because, obviously if people are negative in their lunch accounts, they’re struggling — and that was before,” she said. “We thought about how we can’t imagine how much people must be struggling now, especially with all the job loss and everything that’s happened since then.”

They got together and started talking about a plan. Initially, before they found out the extent of the balance, they thought they might be able to just pay it off, Makemo said.

“Then when we found out, we were like, ‘OK, so it’s like $16,0o0,'” she said, which completely changed the way they were thinking about addressing the issue.

That’s when they decided to start the Facebook page.

Dave Lusk hugs students at his 88th birthday celebration at Valley Academy Charter School, Hurricane, Utah, Feb. 24, 2020 | Photo by Aspen Stoddard, St. George News

She said their first goal was to pay off the debt for those on reduced lunch, the people they thought would need it the most. They met that goal, which was $2,845.66, between 3 p.m. on the afternoon they set it up and 11 a.m. the next day.

Rather than setting up a Go Fund Me account or a similar service, they decided to just collect money via Venmo, PayPal and Cash App, or direct people to just donate directly to the schools because they wanted to make sure the school received every penny.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the pair has raised $8,413.30, which means they have about $6,000 left to raise by Thursday. Other than one $500 donation and one $1000 donation, most of the donations have been $5, $10 and $20, she said, showing how quickly the smaller amounts add up.

One of the reasons this issue resonated with Makemo was that up until this year she was one of those people who were in the negative all year long.

“The kids would be embarrassed about it because every time they would go through the lunch line a little sound would go off. I did my best to keep up with it,” she said. “So I understand the pressure that puts on families.”

A post on a Facebook page showing community support to raise money to pay off school lunch balances for families with children in the Washington County School District, St. George, Utah, May 19, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Sydni Makemo, St. George News

She said there were many people upset about the letter requesting money during this time, and she understood the frustration, but they decided to focus that energy into taking action, which has also simultaneously provided something positive for people to hold onto.

“Some people have said, ‘I wanted to do something good right now, and I didn’t know where to direct my efforts because everything is so crazy.’ So this gave them an opportunity to do something,” she said. “I had a single mother reach out to me and say, ‘My budget is really tight, but I can give you a few bucks.’ People want to help.”

They are trying to get all the donations in by Wednesday, she said, because Thursday is when the district will balance the books.

Makemo said this joint effort between her and Williams would not have been possible without the help of the community.

“This isn’t something we could have done without everyone else in the community stepping up and doing their part by offering donations. Some people are even coming back again and donating a second or a third time and sharing it with their family members and encouraging other people.”

For anyone interested, people may donate to the cause through Venmo, PayPal or Cash App or donate to the school directly.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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