- Associated Press - Sunday, December 25, 2016

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - Donors have given thousands of dollars this holiday season to pay off school lunch debts for Topeka-area families.

The donors’ combined gifts total more than $6,300 and benefit children at Topeka Unified School District 501, Seaman USD 345, Auburn-Washburn USD 437 and Shawnee Heights USD 450, The Topeka Capital-Journal reported (https://j.mp/2hea5Lp).

One contribution, which was directed at helping children at Randolph Elementary School, totaled more than $3,000.

Also, a man who identified himself only as “Tom” called Tecumseh North Elementary last week and asked about unpaid lunch balances. He then showed up at the school with $300 in cash to pay off the $256 in debts and leave extra money for children whose families are struggling financially.

It appears his actions may have inspired others. Within the past week, USD 501 and USD 345 were contacted by six other donors seeking to help out in the same manner. Two people reached out to Auburn-Washburn with donations for a primary school, and three others paid off the meal debts at three Shawnee Heights elementary schools.

One person gave $3,042 for the Randolph community. That included $2,617 to cover lunch debts and $425 in extra funds, which were distributed by crediting $5 to each account for the children whose balances had been negative. A post on the Randolph Elementary Facebook page indicates the donor did so in honor of his fifth-grade teacher, retired educator Kris Rowan, who taught at the school for 36 years.

Kaye Kabus, nutrition director for USD 345, said some families that don’t qualify for free meals under the federal school lunch program struggle to afford them.

“I want to personally thank these kind and generous donors for bringing even more joy to being able to serve our students school meals during this holiday season,” Kabus said.

USD 501 communications director Misty Kruger said more than 120 USD 501 students benefited.

“Lunch balances can add up quickly, and it is one less thing families have to worry about,” Kruger said, “especially at this time of the year.”

Other gifts in the past week include: A combined $500 from two donors for meal debts at Seaman High School, $500 for the debts at Bishop Elementary and a combined $1,300 from two donors for those at Pauline Central Primary.

Martin Weishaar, communications director for Auburn-Washburn, said the gifts to Pauline Central benefited 28 families.

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Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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