By Jill Finkelson
School lunch has been in the news lately. There have been stories from around the country about the mounting debt and how school’s have been dealing with it. Michaela Schell and Chris Kulesa, from the Women’s Leadership Program teamed up with Fargo Public Schools to tackle this problem in our backyard. Of course, the quickest way to reach out to the most people is social media. The premise is simple: The social media campaign challenges Facebook users to skip going out to eat for one lunch and instead donate $5 to the Fargo Public School’s Lunch Fund. Then post a photo of their empty plate and tag a friend challenging them to donate. The challenge amount- $5 shared by enough people means that the $20,000+ in school lunch debt becomes much more manageable. I reached out to Michaela about the campaign and those involved.
High Plains Reader: Can you tell us a little bit about how this got started and what made you focus on this issue specifically?
Michaela Schell: Chris Kulesa and I are part of the 2019 Women's Leadership Program from the Center for Technology and Business. As part of this leadership group we were challenged to champion a cause in our community and give back.
As Chris and I were discussing what we were passionate about... making sure kids had enough to eat was a clear desire for us. For a few years I have been connecting with my own children's school at the end of the school year and donating some money to help pay of lunch debt and it was always so greatly appreciated by our school.
So Chris and I thought... what if we could do this on a bigger scale? What if we could help all of the public schools in Fargo?
One phone call to the Fargo Public Schools Foundation and our hunch was confirmed. There was an immense need for children and families in our community.
Each year over 1000 students end the year with an overdue lunch balance. Often that amounts to over $20,000 in lunch debt for parents and schools.
HPR: I think the social media campaign is really clever. Have you done something like this before?
Michaela Schell: We haven't, but we knew we wanted to do more than just raise money. We really wanted to raise awareness to this need in our community.
What is so wonderful is that Fargo Public Schools doesn't let any child go hungry no matter what their lunch balance looks like. Each kid gets the same meal as everyone else.
But this puts a strain on the school system funds. The lunches have to be covered from somewhere.
Using this social media campaign is such a fantastic way to get this need out to a large amount of people in a short amount of time. If each person who saw the post donated just $5... the $20,000+ lunch debt would be eliminated in just days thanks to the power of facebook and a one click online donation to Fargo Public Schools.
If one person copies the post and the link and posts it on their facebook timeline... think of how many people will see it! How many people will learn about this need in our community! How many people will donate!
It takes just seconds to copy and post. But those few seconds and one click can make an incredible ripple effect!
HPR: This is a group effort with Fargo Public Schools and the Women’s Leadership Program. Can you talk a little about how all of you worked together on this?
Michaela Schell: When approached the Fargo Public School Foundation with our idea they were immediately supportive and so helpful. We were able to sit down with Jennifer Schuldheisz, the Principal of Ed Clapp Elementary school who gave us such a wealth of knowledge on what her school and others face when it comes to lunch dept. The FPS foundation quickly set up a direct, safe, and secure donation link for funds to be donated through directly to their lunch debt and the FPS marketing team was so helpful in helping us get the campaign written and off the ground.
It is so amazing to see the school districts and the community come together and work hand and hand to solve a problem for our city's families.
HPR: Finally, I think this is a great cause and important for people to think about. Can you talk a little about what makes this so important for our community?
Michaela Schell: Principal Jennifer Schuldheisz of Ed Clapp Elementary, shared the following really interesting piece of information with us that really helps show how important it is for our community to help our schools with this need.
Our school districts have a free and reduced lunch program to help families get the food their children need at a free or reduced price in accordance with the families' income. But where the majority of the lunch fund debt comes from isn't from families utilizing this program. It is often from families who were in this program then the parent wonderfully got a pay raise or a new job and their new income just tips over the cut income cut off for free or reduced meals. But while their family income rose they now have a bigger lunch cost for their kiddos in school that needs to be paid. If there are 3 kids in school at the cost of $2.45 for lunch for 5 days a week... that adds up quickly and often puts that family back into a stressed financial state.
This campaign and the funds raised goes to helping families who are working so hard to get ahead. It helps the school district not need to spend their limited funds on paying down the lunch debt but instead on education. It helps alleviate the stress off our kids and families in the community. It helps us all.
Simply visit https://www.fargoschoolsfoundation.org/ to donate.
Chris Kulesa is the Director of Sales at Blue Cross Blue Shield
Michaela Schell is the owner of Live Unlimited Training and Events
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