‘Christmas gift’ pays off school lunch debt for hundreds of Hawaii students

Updated: Nov. 13, 2019 at 5:10 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Makakilo family presented a check for $358.22 to Kapolei Middle on Wednesday that cleared the school’s balance for unpaid lunch debt.

It erased the tab for families who for whatever reason owed the school lunch money.

"It could just take a little bit of a burden off their plate this Christmas and it's just one extra thing for them to not worry about as Christmas comes," Jenae Sergio said.

Her daughters, Ashley and Alexis, came up with the idea to pay unpaid lunch bills at schools in Kapolei where they go to school.

"It was just something that we decided for our Christmas gift, what we wanted," Ashley said.

Their GoFundMe campaign raised more than $3,600 toward a $10,000 goal and paid the bill at four schools.

"If everyone were to just think and be mindful of just being kind, just imagine the community that we can have," said Richard Fajardo, Kapolei Middle School's principal.

The Hawaii Department of Education's meal program follows USDA rules and regulations that prohibit the department from using money from the School Food Services Branch to pay for uncollected debt.

And those bills follow a student.

The negative balance in the Leeward District is $18,000 and it's $102,000 statewide.

“We’re going to have to increase the number on our GoFundMe. Our goal has gone up!” Jenae said.

Donations and special accounts chip away at the bill and schools try to collect from families who have fallen behind. But it’s difficult to recoup all the money.

"Every family's financial situation is different. It's challenging," Fajardo said.

More than 60 people have contributed to the Sergio's GoFundMe campaign that's paid the lunch debt for 350 families.

"We do owe a huge thank you to the people who've helped from all over the country," Jenae said.

Her kids love presenting the checks to principals and being bearers of good news.

“It makes me feel really happy and they’re really excited,” Alexis said.

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