[image-1] No child should ever have to worry about where their next meal comes from, but the reality is that many do. According to Feeding America, one in six children may not know where they get their next meal; children facing hunger are more likely to repeat a grade in elementary school, experience developmental impairments, and have more social and behavioral problems.

Thankfully for Lowcountry kids, the Blessing Box Project has joined forces with I Heart Hungry Kids, Queen Street Hospitality Group, and Charleston Restaurant Foundation to launch Catch Up on Lunch, a program that will help raise money to repay past due lunch debt for children in Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester county public schools.

Founder of the Lowcountry Blessing Box Project Katie Dahlheim says, “The recent government shutdown has brought focus to an ongoing problem in our school districts — families are unable to keep up with the cost of school lunches. Schools are forced to choose between incurring the debt or feeding their students. Since hungry students are unable to focus on their studies, most schools are choosing to give meals to students with past due balances.”

Feeding all of these children has put a heavy load on public school budgets, forcing them to shift their funds away from staff development, art programs, learning materials, and other beneficial initiatives. During the 2018-19 school year, local county debts have continued to grow — Dorchester District 2 students have incurred more than $136,000 in lunch debt, Berkeley County has over $300,000 in debt, and Charleston County carries roughly $88,000 in debt.

This lunch debt is also harmful to students who experience “lunch shaming” — students who have used up their school meal accounts are either denied lunch, served cheaper food options, or given a stamp on their hand to remind parents to pay their balance.

Catch Up on Lunch will host spirit nights at local restaurants with a portion of all evening profits donated to the cause; donations for the program are also available online. School administrators who would like to apply for Catch Up on Lunch funds should apply by April 1.

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