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West Jordan Journal

There is such a thing as a free lunch

Dec 04, 2022 11:31AM ● By Jet Burnham

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

The federally funded free and reduced school lunch program provides meals to students whose families can’t afford to pay full price. However, there are families who don’t qualify for the program but still struggle with the expense.

“We’ve found, especially recently, there’s this population of students who do not qualify for free and reduced lunch but still have needs due to high expenses—housing, food, just general cost of living—so we are finding that our negative lunch balances keep increasing,” Westvale Elementary School Principal Odette Desmarais said.

When a lunch balance goes into a negative balance, parents get an email. If the account remains unpaid, school administrators work with families, ensuring they are signed up for the lunch program if they qualify.

Jordan School District Nutrition Services Director Katie Bastian said families can apply for the lunch program any time their income or the number of people in their household changes. She said no child is ever denied food if their lunch account is unpaid.

“We try and make it so it doesn’t affect the kids,” she said. “If they go into a deficit, they get fed either way. But it does tax the school when the principal has to pay for those deficits.”

Desmarais said the total lunch account deficit might have reached $1,000 during the first quarter of the school year. Fortunately, lunch balances have been paid off recently by generous donors.

In September, a group of Westvale teachers raised $500 to pay off lunch account balances. In November, Tua Kealoha, a local business owner and father of three, raised and donated $600 for past due lunch accounts.

Kealoha has donated a total of $3,000 to pay off deficit lunch accounts at five different schools so far this school year.

When Lindsay Auld, who works with the Jordan Education Foundation, found out what Kealoha, who is a friend of hers, had done for schools in other districts, she asked him to choose a school in Jordan School District for his next donation.

“I think people forget that we are a lower income district,” Auld said. Jordan District has seven Title 1 schools, including Westvale Elementary.

JEF President Mike Hayes said some JSD schools have lunch deficits as much as $2,000.

“We have probably a dozen schools right now that have a debt, [Westvale] is just one of them,” Hayes said.

Westvale Elementary lunch clerk Kandi Manzanares said Kealoha’s donation brought every lunch account current—at least for one day.

 “There were so many outstanding lunch accounts, so it was nice to be able to pay them all off,” she said. “There have been so many grateful parents.”

Desmarais said anyone interested in donating money for school lunch balances can contact any school or just show up in the front office. She said even a $20 donation can make a big difference to a family.

“To have people like Tua that comes in and provides that support to our students is absolutely amazing, it really means a lot to us,” Desmarais said.

Parents can also opt to donate the lunch credit left by their graduated students back to the school to cover other students’ balances, Bastian said.

“The clerks and the principals work really closely together to use those donated funds where they feel are most needed and which families need them the most,” Bastian said.

JEF also works with schools to stock school food pantries and provide weekend food packs for families struggling with food costs. The foundation also recently sponsored a winter coat drive to provide clothing, books and winter coats for students.

“There is so much need,” Auld said. “I don't think we prepared ourselves for the amount of need we would see this year. So anything the community wants to do to help is obviously something we’re going to embrace and work with them to make that happen for our students.”

Financial or in-kind donations can be arranged through