Jerry’s and Edina Public Schools partner to fundraise for student meals

Dedeepya Guthikonda, page editor

While a school lunch costing $3 at secondary schools in Edina may seem like a low price at first glance, lunch payments can quickly accumulate over the course of the school year. Many families are left unable to pay for the cost of students’ meals. 

For families who do meet a certain income threshold, this cost is covered by the free and reduced lunch benefits. However, this can leave others who are just above the income limit unable to pay, and consequently, the district left with thousands of dollars of unpaid lunch debt. 

“Sometimes [in  Edina] it isn’t because [families] don’t have the funds to begin with, it’s because something happens, unexpectedly,” Jerry’s marketing manager Elizabeth Kriel said. The top three incentives for parents unable to pay lunch fees are medical reasons, unspecified financial hardships, and job transitions. 

Kriel works with the Edina MealFund, a program established by parent volunteers. Partnered with Jerry’s, the MealFund collects donations of a couple dollars from shoppers at the cash register. The donations account to the cost of one school meal.

Co-founder of the MealFund, Caroline Correia, describes it as a “fast pass.” The money donated goes straight to the fund, providing one more student at Edina Public Schools with a free lunch at school. 

In addition to raising money, the MealFund has also been working to shed light on the issue of lunch debt, which often goes unnoticed in the community. “At Edina, people think that nobody in the school has an issue like that, and everybody would be able to afford lunch,” Kriel said. “There’s a stigma right there.” 

Currently, the school board itself is struggling to incorporate this lunch debt into its budget. Correia, who is also part of the Legislative Action Committee, believes private funds will have to continue as the only way of tackling this issue. “Budgeting for the school district is so limiting and tight,” Correia said. “I don’t think it’s ever going to be able to come out of the school unless at some point the federal government tries to address it.” 

Just recently, the Agriculture Department under the Trump administration proposed a rule that would cut free school meals for approximately 500,000 students with lunch benefits around the country. As providing lunches to students becomes a larger problem, school districts around the country are working to find ways to account for their debt and tackle this issue. 

One way Edina has tried to solve this issue is through the MealFund. The MealFund was started last year, and after running the fundraiser for three weeks in September, it raised money for more than 400 school lunches. This year, they raised over a thousand dollars in only two weeks. “We didn’t get any negative feedback on it,” Kriel said. 

As for now, the MealFund will continue as an entirely community-based effort to provide for student lunches in schools.