Numerica Credit Union donates $25K to cover lunch debt at local schools

Winter break is right around the corner, but students across the Inland Northwest got an early gift Thursday, as Numerica Credit Union donated $25,000 to local schools to help cover student lunch debt.

More than $6,000 of that total was awarded to Spokane Public Schools. District director of nutrition services Doug Wordell told 4 News Now he’s seen school lunch debt snowball over the last two years. Gov. Jay Inslee signed off on the Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights Act, known to most as the “no lunch-shaming” bill, in April 2018.

The bill changed the way schools handled student lunch debt. Wordell said before the bill was passed, students with debt would not be allowed to get a school lunch until it was paid off. Now, every student is promised a warm meal, even if they aren’t able to pay their lunch bill at the time.

“Before we made the decision that ‘we’re gonna feed every kid no matter what’ we were maybe having $2,000 of unpaid debt, now we have about $15,000 of unpaid meal debt on the book at one time,” he said.

“The issue now is, when we stopped feeding a child, we got a response right away,” Wordell explained. “We don’t get to do that anymore and so now, it seems like parents, sometimes maybe aren’t as responsive because they’re getting fed. But it’s a real debt that starts accruing.”

Wordell said about 60% of students qualify for Spokane Public Schools’ free and reduced lunch program, but even if a family doesn’t qualify, that doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t struggling financially.

“The line is the line. And if they make one dollar more than the line, but still have significant need, that’s where our counselors and principals work with families and toward the end of our year, if we have those who have been identified, then funds like this can help wipe away that debt,” Wordell said.

That’s where Numerica stepped in Thursday. President and CEO Carla Cicero handed a check worth $6,127.50 to Wordell as students ate in Regal Elementary’s lunch room.

“We give away about $2 million a year out into our communities and we earmark $25,000 specifically for Christmas,” Cicero said. “It was just a no-brainer to say ‘hey, we need to help people live well by helping to reduce the strain of this debt.”

Cicero said Numerica was also covering lunch debts at schools in Central Washington, the Tri-Cities and North Idaho.