Acts of kindness: Donors wipe out $1,000 lunch debt for Hatfield schoolchildren

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Published: 12/27/2017 9:25:52 PM

HATFIELD — Amy Hutchins got a call from the principal of Hatfield Elementary School on Friday that left her feeling beyond excited.

“There are generous acts that happen every day, but when you’re involved in one, it’s a little overwhelming,” Hutchins, director of food services for Hatfield schools, said.

The call was regarding a parent whose church — City of David in Hadley — wanted to help pay off lunch debt at the elementary school. Over the next few hours, the mother, her church and another donor came together to collectively wipe clean every family’s lunch bill by giving $997.15 in total.

“It sat with me all weekend long,” Hutchins said of the acts of generosity. “It had a profound effect on me.”

Lunch debt is a controversial reality for school districts across the country, whose food services often have to operate with independent budgets. Some families qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, but for others the debt from school lunches can add up. As a national conversation grows about that debt and how it is collected, a trend has emerged of donors across the country paying bills for others.

“As tough as it is, you’re a debt collector,” Hutchins said. “You wear a bunch of hats, and that’s probably the worst one you have to wear.”

But into that gap in Hatfield stepped City of David, which gave $200, along with one of the church’s members who gave $200 and a volunteer at the school who donated the rest of the bill.

“As a church, our big vision really is to make Jesus real and practical to the world around us,” said Lincoln Adeoyin, the pastor of City of David. “One way, especially in the festive Christmas season and we know Jesus would have done, is reaching out to those who are in need.”

Adeoyin said his family gave a personal donation to their children’s school in Connecticut, and that got them thinking about what they could do in their church’s community. Soon they connected with Hatfield Elementary.

“Just knowing that they could celebrate the Christmas or holiday season knowing that they don’t have to worry about the bill for their feeding over the last few months, I think that’s pretty special and satisfying,” he said.

However, even with the donations from the church and the parishioner, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, there was still nearly $300 left on the tab.

Wendy Tataro, who volunteers in the school’s kitchen, didn’t hesitate to cover that amount when Hutchins told her about the situation. Tataro’s grandson goes to the school, and she had already asked Hutchins about a way to give back to the community.

“I think the role of the community is, everyone who can, to pitch in,” she said, adding she and her husband grew up poor in Northampton, so they know what it means to not have enough.

Tataro’s grandson had extra money in his lunch account, and so it was obvious to her that that money should go to someone else. She likened the act to when she used to work, and wanted so badly to donate her sick time to someone who really needed it.

“We are so fortunate for what we have,” she said. “For anybody and everybody to just give a few bucks is something worth it.”

For Hutchins, the food service director, the acts left her stunned, particularly the speed with which the whole effort came together. It was only on Wednesday afternoon that she was able to alert the families who no longer owe the school for lunches past.

“It was really overwhelming,” she said.

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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