Firefighters pick up the tab to cover school lunch program's shortfall

Firefighters donated $2,500 to the West Middlesex school board to give parents a chance to catch up on missed lunch payments

By David L. Dye
The Herald

WEST MIDDLESEX, Pa. — Regardless of what a student’s situation at home is, “the kids will always be fed” at West Middlesex schools.

Unfortunately, if a family misses a payment or begins to fall behind, trying to get caught up can be extremely difficult, Food Service Director Marie Popatak said.

“If we’re ever able to get a family caught up, then they’re usually able to keep up with the payments afterward,” Popatak said.

With about 25 to 30 students either participating in the free or reduced lunch program or simply behind on regular lunch payments, those families will have a chance to catch up due to the generosity of some local firefighters after a $2,500 check was presented at the West Middlesex school board’s meeting last week.

Presenting the check was Engineer David Foltz and Chief Justin Barnes with the Shenango Township Volunteer Fire Department.

The idea for the donation started when Foltz said he saw a story on the news roughly a month ago, in which a VFW made a donation to their local school. Wanting to see if his fire department would be able to do something similar, Foltz decided to reach out to the school district.

“I called the school to let them know what I was looking to do, and I got a call back by the day after about what the need was,” Foltz said.

Foltz brought up the donation at the fire department’s monthly business meeting on Feb. 4. After explaining the need and what we hoped to do, Foltz said one of the firefighters – who wished to remain anonymous – made a donation of $1,000 to the cause.

“He said “$1,000” and I think everyone else at the table that night sat there for a moment and said, 'Whoa',” Barnes said.

Between the initial donor and the other 15 or so firefighters who were in attendance at that night’s meeting, the department was able to raise the $2,500 needed to pay off the school district’s lunch debt in one night.

“When I called her back, I asked her “are you sitting down?” Because we were able to cover the whole thing,” Foltz said.

There were about 30 families with children in the district who had some kind of debt for their kids’ lunches. Though she was initially surprised at how quickly and how much the firefighters were able to raise, Popatak said she and the roughly 30 families who were struggling to make payments were very appreciative of the effort.

“Sometimes when I would call the families and tell them not to worry because the debt’s been taken care of, they’ll start crying because they’re so grateful,” Popatak said.

Glad that he and his fellow firefighters were able to help, Foltz said he hoped the presentation at Monday’s meeting would encourage other organizations to do something as well.

“All the schools have a need, so there’s something that we can all do,” Foltz said.

Copyright 2019 The Herald

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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