More than 200 families of the Palmyra Area School District are breathing a sigh of relief after the debt for their children’s school lunches was paid by an anonymous donor.

School lunch debts nearing $1,800 were paid recently by a group that prefers not to be identified, said Palmyra Superintendent Dr. Bernie Kepler.

This was the first time in his seven years in the district that anything like this has happened, said a surprised Kepler.

On Monday, Kepler informed parents through an email that their children’s school lunch debt had been paid.

Regarding the desire for anonymity, Kepler explained, “The donor simply wants to make a kind act and needs no recognition for doing so.”

The school district has four elementary schools, one middle and one high school, and some of the debt was owed by kids in each of the schools, in grades K-12, involving a total of 205 families.

The donor is a church group in the community.

“When our social workers came to me regarding this generous offer of support, I was humbled by the generosity of the donor,” Kepler said. “For an individual or group to seek to help others without a need for recognition is the greatest modeling we can give to our community and our youth.”

Elementary lunches cost $2.30 and secondary lunches are $2.40.

Breakfast and lunch programs in the district are supported by the federal government to families who qualify, Kepler said.

Families may pay a reduced lunch of 40 cents or get a free meal, dependent on the family’s finances, Kepler said.

“The donor worked with our social workers to submit the donation,” Kepler said. “They approached our social workers based on prior relationship as they wanted to do some good for our community.”

To pay for school lunches, families can submit deposits into a student’s lunch account via cash or check at the register daily and they also do online deposits via a credit card, Kepler said.

“Palmyra will work with families from year to year to see that lunch debts are paid,” Kepler said. “We do not deny a child lunch.”

A practice known as “lunch-shaming” began a few years ago; giving a student an ‘alternative’ lunch if the child had an outstanding meal debt.

That practice was outlawed in Pennsylvania in 2017, but the law changed last year and now students with $50 or more of unpaid lunch may only receive an alternative meal, if the school is in agreement with the practice.

The child would receive those alternative meals until his or her parents can pay the debt or until a payment plan is set up.

That won’t happen in Palmyra, Kepler said.

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