Durham County

Students who receive reduced-priced school lunches owe DPS $4,800. Want to help?

A server at a Durham elementary school dishes up a hot meal.
A server at a Durham elementary school dishes up a hot meal. Durham Public Schools

A Durham woman has turned to social media to pay off a balance of nearly $5,000 that Durham Public Schools students owe on their reduced-priced lunches.

Rebekah Miel started the GoFundMe account on Tuesday, and it had raised $1,410 by 7 p.m.

“Food insecurity for children is a significant problem in Durham, and in some cases school lunches are the only meals these students get,” Miel said.

She said the goal is to help pay down the students’ balances before the holidays so families don’t have to worry about being able to pay for school meals.

“There are so many larger issues facing the world,” Miel said. “I think making sure all kids have access to food is something we should be able to do.”

Miel read about a similar effort in another town and sees the need collecting food for PORCH Durham, a nonprofit that supports programs like BackPack Buddies, that make sure kids have meals when they are not in school.

“I’m very grateful how the Durham community comes together around issues like this,” Miel said.

James Keaten, executive director of school nutrition services, said that out of the 1,500 students who receive reduced-priced lunches, about 636 – 42.4 percent – currently owe money.

Keaten said the balance is $4,883.

About two-thirds of the district’s nearly 34,000 students receive either free or reduced-priced lunches. Their parents pay 40 cents for each meal.

Meanwhile, the total amount owed by all DPS students with balances on their lunch accounts is $103,835.

Keaten said money to pay off the accounts for those who receive reduced-priced lunches has the greatest impact because their parents earn too much to qualify for free lunches but not enough to pay the full price.

“They're the ones who have the most unmet needs,” Keaten said.

He said any money received above the amount needed to pay off the balance would go into a fund to be used to pay off balances in the spring.

There’s a tradition of residents stepping forward to help pay of lunch account balances for students attending Durham Public Schools.

Lunch Angels NC,” a nonprofit organization that has routinely paid off lunch account balances for individual DPS schools is probably the best known.

In May, the founders, Kyle Newman and Walt Winfrey of Craig Motor Co. and Erik Neill, chief instructor and owner of Neill’s Taekwondo and Fitness, cleared overdue accounts totaling more than $1,000 at Forest View, Creekside and Parkwood elementary schools.

Greg Childress: 919-419-6645, @gchild6645