Lunch Crisis
PHOTO COURTESY KEERTANA TALLA Keertana Talla, right, presents a check to Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea.

By ERIN ROLL
roll@montclairlocal.news

The Montclair school district has received a donation to help offset a recurring problem: students not being able to pay for their lunches.

The district received $3,000 from the Trenton-based group Lunch Crisis. The group, founded by high school student Keertana Talla of Kent Place School in Summit in 2017, gives donations to schools to help them with lunch debt. Talla said she started Lunch Crisis through a GoFundMe page to help address the issue of students accumulating debt on their school meal balances, after hearing stories of students being “shamed” for not being able to pay for their lunch.

About 76 percent of school districts across the country had accumulated some form of lunch debt as of the end of the 2016-2017 school year, according to the School Nutrition Association.

Montclair finished out the 2017-2018 school year with students having a total of $98,109 in lunch debt.

The prior year, the debt was $107,000, with an average of $52 in negative balances per student, according to data released by the district at the end of the 2016-2017 school year.

As of April, Lunch Crisis had raised $10,000 to donate to school districts.

The board of education officially accepted the donation during the Nov. 19 BOE meeting.

“The Lunch Crisis decided to make a donation of $3,000 to the Montclair School District this fall because we felt that the need in this district was often overlooked,” Talla said. “[The] Montclair district has a lot of diversity, including income diversity, so we really wanted to help the lower end of the spectrum as much as we could. Additionally, Montclair is an amazing district with many schools so as soon as we know that they were open to donations, we knew Montclair would be the perfect place for the funds to go.”

“Lunch shaming” can take on forms such as cafeteria staff throwing students’ lunch into the trash or making them wipe down the cafeteria table. Several states have introduced legislation forbidding these practices.

In Montclair, the High School had the largest negative balance of $29,993.

Glenfield Middle School had the next largest with $16,284, followed by Hillside with $12,765.

Of the schools, Renaissance Middle School had the lowest lunch debt amount.

Several parents have claimed their children had been charged for lunches that they had never ordered.

The School Nutrition Association, a national group that looks at schools and nutrition policies across the United States, has suggested that schools can help lower the amount of lunch debt by waiving the copay for free and reduced-price lunch. In Montclair, this is 30 cents for a breakfast and 40 cents for a lunch.