As school districts across the country make headlines for “lunch shaming” their students, a 14-year-old boy in Texas has decided to do something about it.
Ben Hofer, an eighth-grader at Austin Independent School District, has started an online fund-raising campaign to help kids whose families owe lunch money pay off their debt.
The campaign, launched April 21, has already raised more than $9,000.
About 5,000 students in the Austin school district carry a combined lunch debt of $18,500, according to Ben’s campaign page.
“When kids are hungry, they don’t do as well at school,” the boy wrote. “Being stressed or embarrassed about not having enough money for food is disheartening. I’m sure parents have a lot of worries, and lunch for their kids should not be one of them.”
A Rhode Island school district drew outrage this month after announcing that students who owe lunch money would be served a “SunButter and jelly sandwich” instead of hot food. In Minnesota, a coalition of lawmakers is pushing a bill that would prohibit withholding a diploma over a lunch debt after a school there reportedly considered the practice.
Other school districts have marked kids with wristbands or stickers, a move that critics call “lunch shaming," which can stigmatize low-income children.
Ben’s “LunchCounts!” fund-raiser had more than 170 donors as of Tuesday afternoon, a response he said was “overwhelming.”