Nov 4, 2013 7:51 PM by Allison Bourne-Vanneck
The Lafayette Parish School System has put the brakes on a program that feeds kids lunch if they don't have any money.
A Lafayette mother started Louisiana Lunch Money after the school board said it wouldn't feed students who had no money in their account for full meal.
School officials said the system was losing money, so it started a plan to give those kids a snack and send notices to the state truancy office if parents consistently didn't pay.
But the Cerrissa Couvillion objected, saying the students should still be able to eat. She formed Louisiana Lunch Money to collect donations and sponsor the meals. Now Couvillion says the school board won't take her money for meals until she's built up $10,000 in donations.
She says she had no idea the school system wasn't using the money she raised to feed students who forgot their lunch money. She was given a letter last month, saying she needs to have enough money in reserve to cover the entire year.
"It is challenging, because we have $5,000 so far," Cerrissa Couvillion said.
Lafayette Parish School System officials say confusion in the previous year led to the change. According to the system's finance office, sometimes Couvillion's program didn't have enough money to sponsor the meal for every child that didn't have money that day. It led to parents asking why they were charged for one missed meal, but not another.
"It would alleviate that situation or that inconsistency," Chief Financial Officer of Lafayette Parish School System Billy Guidry says of the reserve fund. "It would eliminate it from the standpoint that going into the program or going into the school year or that part of the school year, we'd know that we'd have funds available to cover that half of the school year," .
Couvillion says they sponsor about 250 meals a day. Parents are still responsible for putting money in their child's account and are referred to state agencies if they continue to miss meal payments. Couvillion says Louisiana Lunch Money's purpose was to keep children fed, not punish children for parent's paying lunch money.
"We're just trying to come up with an agreement between the school board to open the program up in how we can move forward and pass this situation to continue to feeding the children," Couvillion said.
Since the initial changes to the school lunch policy, there's been another school system reversal. In 2011, it was decided students with no funds would get a snack instead of a full meal. Now LPSS feeds elementary school students a full meal. Middle school and high school students receive a snack.
"At the middle school and high school levels those students would be served a snack meal. Our older students are better able to communicate to their parents that their account balance is either low or at zero," Guidry said.
But Couvillion says her goal remains the same, and requests all her money go to feeding any student that needs the extra help.
She's trying to get the $10,000 the school system is requesting. She raised about $1,500 in a Halloween fundraiser.
The school system says it's open to other options, such as sending those in need straight to the Louisiana Lunch Money organization and not acting as the liaison. It says manpower and the cost of tracking available funds is a financial strain for the system.
Meanwhile, the next few Louisiana Lunch Money fundraisers are already in the works. For more information, you can go to louisianalunchmoney.org.