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Food, Friends and Funds: 7 Delectable Deeds Dished Out at School Lunchrooms in September

By Nathania Johnson | September 28, 2016

Photo: Twitter

This article is one in a series at The 74 which profiles the heroes, victories, success stories and random acts of kindness to be found at schools all across America. Read more of our recent inspiring profiles at The74million.org/series/inspiring.

For many students, lunchtime can be one of the most stressful parts of the school day. From finding people to eat with to paying for meals to eating what their family can afford, the lunch period can be fraught with tension.

Thankfully, many people are committed to creating a positive school lunch experience. Previously, we’ve taken a look at a national effort to help students avoid eating alone and a businessman who paid off lunch balances for an entire school.

This month we’re celebrating seven more stories in which people are making a difference in the school cafeteria:

September 5: Florida State football player sees middle school student with autism eating lunch alone, sits with him During a visit to Tallahassee’s Montford Middle School earlier this month, Florida State wide receiver Travis Rudolph noticed a boy eating lunch alone. Rudolph sat down across from Bo Paske, a sixth-grader with autism, and a photo of the moment was snapped by a school resource officer. The photo went viral, and Rudolph has continued his friendship with Paske, recently giving him a personalized Florida State football jersey. Bo’s mother, Leah Paske, wrote a touching thank-you to Rudolph on Facebook: “I'm not sure what exactly made this incredibly kind man share a lunch table with my son, but I’m happy to say that it will not soon be forgotten. This is one day I didn’t have to worry if my sweet boy ate lunch alone, because he sat across from someone who is a hero in many eyes. Travis Rudolph thank you so much, you made this momma exceedingly happy, and have made us fans for life!” (Read more: Q13 Fox)


September 13: Virginia cafeteria workers surprised with a gift card in appreciation for their dedication When cafeteria workers at a Richmond elementary school were presented with meal boxes, they thought they were being given a free meal. But when they opened the boxes, they were surprised to find a gift card. “I’m about to cry,” one of the women said. The gesture was a gift from local station CBS 6 and Union Bank and Trust to honor the hard work and dedication of the lunchroom staffers, unsung heroes who serve up not just food to their students, the station said, but love. (Read more: CBS 6)


September 12: California teen creates app to help students find lunch buddies Sit With Us is a free iPhone app developed by 16-year-old Natalie Hampton. The app allows students to extend invitations to anyone looking for lunch pals at their school. Those offering the invitations must agree to allow anyone to sit with them. The idea was spurred by Hampton’s experience of eating alone “pretty much every day” for two years in middle school and “personally feeling all the feelings of rejection and isolation and embarrassment that go along with that.” (Read more: Los Angeles Daily News)


September 22: Parent-teacher association donates money to school lunch fund at Idaho middle school After a phone alert for low lunch balances was not working for Victory Middle School families, a sixth-grader had his lunch taken away because of his account status. That’s when the school’s Parent-Teacher Organization stepped in to donate $300 to a fund to help students pay for their lunch when their accounts are overdrawn. “I don’t think that anybody goes into this business to see kids be hungry, especially when we want them to learn and focus on that,” said Janae Vorhes, treasurer of the Victory Middle School Parent-Teacher Organization. (Read more: KTVB)


September 26: School district comes together to build accessible outdoor picnic table for disabled Maryland senior It’s a special privilege for Smithsburg High School seniors to eat outside during their lunch period. “It was nice for everyone else except for me,” said Isaiah Horst, whose wheelchair couldn’t fit under the umbrella-shaded patio tables. Thanks to nearby South High’s technical education teacher and eight fellow students, an accessible picnic table was built for Horst and all future disabled students who can now eat outside with their senior classmates. (Read more: Herald-Mail Media)


September 23: Chefs revolutionize school menus in Connecticut Chef Daniel Giusti, once head chef at the two-Michelin-star restaurant Noma in Copenhagen, is spearheading an effort in New London School District to bring better-tasting food to the school lunch cafeteria. Students at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School and New London High School are dining on spiced chicken tacos, baked New England sole, barbecue chicken, pizza and turkey chili. Sides include raw kale salad and pears poached in green tea. And gone are the partitioned trays, replaced by plates and bowls. Elevating cafeteria cuisine is sometimes a struggle, but Giusti said, “You talk to one kid who says ‘Thank you very much for this food. It’s amazing.’ That’s enough for me.” (Read more: The Day)


September 20: Pennsylvania cafeteria worker quits job over new policy withholding hot meals from poor students Sometimes it takes a great act of courage to stand up for what you believe in. Stacy Koltiska made the difficult decision to quit her job of two years after a new policy was put in place punishing kids who have a negative school lunch balance. Koltiska said the policy required her to take hot meals away from students owing more than $25. Having grown up relying on food stamps and free lunches, the lunchroom staffer said she just couldn’t bring herself to enforce the policy after seeing a first-grader well with tears when his hot meal was replaced with a cheese sandwich. The district said it instituted the policy to try to recoup between $60,000 and $100,000 owed by 300 families on their lunch accounts and added that it did not affect students on free and reduced-priced lunch. (Read more: The Washington Post)

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