Campaign aims to pay off $160,000 in overdue Minneapolis school lunch accounts

- $160,000 worth of unpaid school lunch accounts has piled up at Minneapolis Public Schools. Former State Representative Jeremy Kalin started HelpMPLSKids.com with the aim of wiping that debt clean.

“We just don’t want any kid to experience shame or punishment just because of the economic hardship of their own family,” Kalin said. 

The main reasons Minneapolis families rack up school lunch debt in the first place? Often, families are unaware they even qualify for free or reduced lunch. Other times, the parents earn “too much” money although they may only be making ends meet or the families have immigration status concerns that prevent them from enrolling in benefits.

Kalin says his goal with the campaign is two-fold: to give to children in need and to help protect them from bullies.

“You can tell who has a hot lunch and who has a cheese sandwich because they have a bill that’s just a little too big,” Kalin said. He said it can alienate them from their more privileged peers.

To create HelpMPLSKids.com, Kalin teamed up with his coworkers at Eutectics, a company that mobilizes capital for the greater good. The campaign has already raised $80,000 to clear unpaid school lunch accounts at MPS.

“A little bit of money here or there that can make a big difference in the life of a family,” Kalin said.

Fox 9 reached out to MPS for comment on the support, but their spokeswoman declined.

Meanwhile, a parallel campaign, helpstpaulkids.com, led by a St. Paul Public Schools Give MN fundraiser has already fulfilled that district’s $28,000 need to pay off overdue lunch bills there.

“There were over 500 individuals who gave to this campaign. The average gift was over $50,” Stacey Koppen, the Director of Nutrition Services at SPPS, said.

Along with gifts, many donors sent heartwarming messages. Some even contributed to the campaign in honor of Philando Castile, the former SPPS cafeteria worker who was fatally shot by a St. Anthony police officer last July.

“I think this is truly a very heartwarming story for our community and I’m just so thrilled and so grateful that individuals thought of us and our students!” Koppen said.

After all, full bellies lead to sharp minds and what better time than the holidays to remember – it takes a whole village to raise a child.

On Thursday, the Minnesota Timberwolves will announce their donation towards the unpaid lunch accounts at MPS. So far, HelpMPSKids.com has only raised half of the district’s $160,000 need.

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