NPR, Columbia University School Of Journalism, Kristen Thomson Riley discussed on It's Been a Minute with Sam Sanders


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The show where we catch up on the week that was I'm Sam Sanders here with two panelists. Sally herships independent journalist and director of the Radio Program at Columbia University School of journalism and Tracey Samuelson senior reporter at marketplace okay so glad you are here wacky question for you when you were in grade school. What was your favorite meal in the school area. Oh I know this Berkshire today now is a big one. I told her remember that far back but I do remember being incredibly sake that I got to Bhai twinkies highlight of lunch so I bring all this up because we're in the midst of back to school season and I've been thinking a lot about school lunches empire because of this really feel good story out of Saint Louis last week. There's this resident there Michelle Anderson and she has been giving out out free snack bags two kids in her neighbourhood who might be going hungry each day. I would just wonder like how would I would. I provide this for them. So I started making peanut butter and Jelly. I will take my change and it just went from there. You know this sounds like a feel good story but if you look past that warm fuzzy headline there's this larger problem. Federal data shows that more than one in ten American households with children are at some point food insecure insecure. Basically it's hard to feed everyone every meal every day. I like a lot of other folks just went around thinking that these kids could at least eat at school all through the free and reduced lunch programs et Cetera but even with that help. There's a growing problem for a lot of kids and their families dealing with food security school meal debt like. Did you know that for some kids in some school districts if they can't pay for their lunches the crew a negative balance for some of these kids that a debt can follow them. I didn't know the debt follows them but I did know that this was a problem and I knew that the school districts around the country threatening ending parents in various ways if we're not paid it's really really weird and this problem seems to be growing and so this week we found a woman in North Carolina who is trying to fix problems. She's been on a mission for a few years now to erase student debt in her school district. Her name is Kristen Thomson Riley and she began again doing this work to mark the twentieth anniversary of her father's death so we spoke earlier this week and she told me why and how she does it so kristen recalling you to talk about student launch de. This is a problem in your school district right. It is a problem in our school district and by the end of the school year if the students do not pay the debt and the debt falls on the responsibility of that particular school so then the school stuck with this bill from your knowledge. How big of a problem is this in your school district in your area. It's definitely a growing problem it initially when I started doing some research. It was several hundred dollars per school and last year. Actually I'm sorry this year March of Twenty Nineteen nineteen it was over ten thousand dollars for five of the local Public Nevin North Carolina schools and so we call Ju- issue today because you saw that problem student meal debt and you wanted to help turn that around what did you do so in two thousand fourteen. I decided to you do a day of good deeds and as part of that I had read an article where a gentleman had gone into a school and paid off the negative lunch balances and you you know it hit close to me and I thought well that would be a great thing to do so I reached out to a teacher at the high school who was a friend of mine who had connections with the Cafeteria Korea and he told me that their debt was five hundred and fifty dollars and I reached out just via text to about a dozen friends who also had children children at the high school and we raised six hundred and fifty dollars and the debt was actually five fifty so they ended up putting a couple of the kids with the most need the positive. So how many schools do you help now. Six there are six public schools and and that's been my primary focus because the debts. Let's have grown. I have just stuck with six rather than branching out because I want to. I want to take care of the schools in my town so when you have this day of good deeds. It's you you in the neighborhood trying to get this money. Like what do you do to get the donations. So what I've started to do is about six weeks in advance reach each out to either the principals vice principals and they give me their goals like where they're negative lunch balances are and so I set those goals way in advance so that I can start posting on social media and get additional exposure and give people time to make donations so you know now. Unfortunately I can't raise five or six thousand dollars in a day it takes time so I usually start at the beginning of February so people can and start donating at their leisure and they can see where the goals are in which schools that they would like to contribute to Gotcha. Do you interact personally in your work work with kids. Families who are struggling with these food security issues who can't pay those student meal debts actually had a single mom reach out to me a couple of years ago and sent me the nicest note about how she had been struggling and we took a huge burden off of her by donating donating and alleviating that negative balance for her kid and those messages are the reason why do this year after year so this is something approaching a happy ending for your school district but this student meal debt is a big and growing problem across the country in some school districts are doing some really weird stuff to deal with it. there are some school districts where if a student incurs launched launch debt the debt follows these children all the way through the end of high school. I've read some stories where students aren't allowed to go to things like homecoming Maine or prom if their student meal that isn't paid their other school districts where if the kids cannot pay for the meal and they don't qualify five for free or reduced the cafeteria will serve them an alternate meal which is often like PB and J. Sandwich. I like fruits and vegetables but other kids see that and they kinda shame them for this called lunch shaming How bad is it for kids in your district when they aren't able to pay the debt. What does the school school do. Now I mean of course it's all paid off because of you but before you help them pay off. What was I guess. Punishment for. Kids couldn't pay well. Some of the schools roles will restrict them from extracurricular activities as far as like a middle school dance or something like that if they have a negative lunch balance. Oh my God how do you feel about that. I think it's cruel. It's not the children's fault but they still continue to feed the kids. I have not heard of any scenario locally where a child has been turned away because he or she had a negative lunch balanced which is which is Great Gotcha besides having these kids in middle school who'll possibly miss a school dance over the student debt what other measures were the schools taking before you kind of stepped in to fill these gaps. I think for the most part at at least with principals in the elementary school. They just continued to let the kids eat lunch. I mean their their children there under the age of ten and so you know at that that point when they come in and they have a negative balance in their hungry. The school feeds them You said that you were kind of inspired to do this. Work Tomorrow the anniversary of the passing of your father yes. What do you think he would say to you. Oh now see and you do this. I think he would say a job I would say good job to this is really heart warming stuff that you're doing well. I I really appreciate it and I thank you so much..

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