How One Woman's Tweet Helped Pay Student Lunch Debts Across the US

New York City writer Ashley C. Ford hated knowing that thousands of school children — saddled with unpaid lunch accounts — were being offered embarrassing substitute meals in their school cafeterias. Wanting to make a difference, Ford took to Twitter, imploring her 66,000 followers to take action.

"A cool thing you can do today is try to find out which of your local schools have kids with overdue lunch accounts and pay them off," she wrote in a Tweet posted in early December of last year.

According to the Associated Press, Ford's tweet had a major impact: She inspired hundreds of people to raise thousands of dollars. In fact, an online campaign raised nearly $100,000 for lunch debt in Minneapolis and $28,000 in St. Paul's schools, the AP reports, while efforts in Topeka, Kansas, paid off $6,000 in debt and a movement in Bellevue, Washington, erased $2,000 in unpaid lunch dues.

As the AP noted, children from low-income families can qualify for free or reduced-price breakfasts and lunch. Some of these families, however, still struggle to pay the cost of reduced-price school meals, which can lead to their children's lunch accounts being overdrawn (other instances of lunch debt can come from families who may not realize they qualify for discounted meals and fail to fill out necessary paperwork, or from parents who can afford to pay for meals but forget to put money in their children's prepaid accounts).

Though most schools allow students to "run a tab" for a fixed number of meals, others will offer students an alternative lunch option, which can consist of just a cold cheese sandwich and a carton of milk.

One woman, Jill Draper, who worked to collect money for schools in Kingston, New York, told the AP she was moved to take action because Ford's tweet made it seem easy.

"It seemed like a really easy way to make a positive difference locally," Draper said. "It's amazing how one tweet became this crazy movement." And that's exactly what Ford wanted.

"I sincerely just wanted to think of something really easy that people could do to make a difference locally," Ford told the AP. "It was just one idea; another school might need help with uniforms or tutoring. The point was to do something that helps people in your community."

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