As a dad and the CEO of yogurt company Chobani, Hamdi Ulukaya wasn’t going to let students in Warwick, Rhode Island, go without hot meals because they owed lunch money.
Chobani made a generous donation to the Warwick, Rhode Island, school district that announced on May 6 that students with lunch debt would be served sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches until the balance was paid or a parent set up a payment plan.
The company donated $47,650 toward Warwick’s lunch debt of approximately $77,000, and called on other companies to contribute, according to the Providence Journal. Multiple GoFundMe fundraising pages have also raised nearly $40,000 since last week.
Chobani said it aims to bring attention to the national food insecurity crisis with the donation and is pledging to donate cups and bottles of its Greek yogurt to the Warwick community, in a statement released to Global Citizen.
"As a parent, this news breaks my heart,” Ulukaya said. “For every child, access to naturally nutritious and delicious food should be a right, not a privilege. When our children are strong, our families are stronger.”
Following national backlash, Warwick officials announced that they would put a hold on the policy originally set to take effect on May 13. The school district claimed it needed to roll out the policy to help its $4 million budget deficit.
Those who opposed the rule worried it promoted “lunch shaming,” would ostracize low-income students, and harm their ability to focus in class. Karen Bachus, chairwoman of the Warwick School Committee, argued in a Facebook post that a vast majority of the debt (72%) is from students who are not enrolled in the National School Lunch Program, a federal initiative that offers meal assistance. However, experts say students whose families don’t qualify for subsidized or free lunch but are still struggling financially are hurt the most by lunch debt.
Since Warwick’s first announcement of the new policy, about $14,000 had been collected from parents for outstanding balances.
Access to better food should be a right, not a privilege. No child should go hungry or be shamed if they can't afford school lunch. Join our fight to #FillUpTheirPlate & urge Congress to pass the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act of 2019. https://t.co/6k5mjQRgsUpic.twitter.com/c1y7jfp7sb— Chobani (@Chobani) May 10, 2019
Warwick schools aren't the only ones across the US challenged with cafeteria-related money problems — 76% of America's school districts have kids with school lunch debt, according to the School Nutrition Association. And the problem is only getting worse; the median lunch debt climbed from $2,000 to $2,500 per school district between 2016 and 2018, according to a survey conducted by the School Nutrition Association.
Chobani hopes others join the fight to help students thrive by ensuring that they receive better nutrition.
“When our families are strong, our communities are stronger. Business can and must do its part to solve the hunger crisis in America and do its part in the communities they call home,” Ulukaya said.