- Associated Press - Thursday, January 5, 2017

ST. CLOUD, Minn. (AP) - A Minnesota mom was surprised it took just an hour on social media to raise hundreds of dollars to pay off student lunch debt at a St. Cloud elementary school.

Sara Greenberg-Hassan began raising money for Madison Elementary School on a crowd-funding website after she attended lunch with her kindergarten son and learned that students receive bag lunches when their accounts are in debt. The bag lunches are generally a sandwich and milk, the St. Cloud Times (https://on.sctimes.com/2j68djY ) reported.

“I realized that some kids were getting a different lunch and when I inquired about that, I realized this was a major ongoing issue that was carrying over year-to-year where families couldn’t afford even the reduced lunch rate,” Greenberg-Hassan said.

In one hour, she raised $400 to cover the outstanding debt. The Sartell mom then increased the goal amount to cover debt for the rest of the school year. More than 20 donors raised $935 by Wednesday afternoon.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, nearly 70 percent of Madison Elementary School students are eligible for free and reduced lunch.

Madison Elementary nutritional services facilitator Deb DeLeo said the district’s policy is to send an automated email or call when a student’s lunch account reaches around $5. The account is put on hold with another note sent to the student’s family when it gets to roughly $5 in debt.

“We never deny any child a lunch or breakfast,” district nutritional service supervisor Connie Jopp said. Jopp said while the reminders to families have helped reduce the amount of negative accounts, families experiencing hardships sometimes can’t put money into the account.

Greenberg-Hassan and Natalie Ringsmuth of #UniteCloud now plan to raise money to help pay lunch debts in other St. Cloud schools. The two plan to set up an account on GiveMN.org.

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Information from: St. Cloud Times, https://www.sctimes.com

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