North Texas Church Pays Off Entire District's School Lunch Debt

Every Christmas, the congregation of the Royse City First United Methodist Church donates its Christmas Eve offerings to charity. Last year, half of the donations went to a nonprofit and the other half to an elementary school down the street, to help cover the cost of school lunches for families thrat had fallen behind in payments.

That was Christmas 2017.

The following year, Pastor Chris Everson went to the church board to ask about taking the tradition a step further.

"The question came up: What would it look like if we did this for the entire ISD?" Everson said.

Last fall, he asked the congregation to think about what they would spend on Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner and then set aside that amount to help other families in the community.

By Christmas, the 200-member congregation donated more than $10,000.

"If the church does not impact the community the church is in, then the church isn't doing its job," Everson said. "With us having the opportunity to make an impact, then we are doing what Christ has called us to do to -- serve the least of these."

Adi Bryant, Royse City ISD's chief communications officer, said the church quietly handed over a check around Christmas.

"We didn't have to cry out and ask for this help, they saw that families needed support and they stepped in and did it," Bryant said.

Bryant told NBC 5 around 40 percent of the district's roughly 6,000 students receive free or reduced price lunches as part of the National School Lunch Program.

It's unclear how many additional families are just outside that threshold, but still struggle to pay for school lunch.

When a student is $25 or more past due, the student still receives a meal of a turkey or ham sandwich, a piece of fruit and milk. But, the student no longer receives a hot meal.

"It really broke my heart to see there were students who were trying to learn, students who were trying to get through the day," Everson said. "Knowing the school did what they could to provide for them, but you need more than just a sandwich and a carton of milk to make it through the rest of the school day."

The church's donation paid off debts for students who are $20 or more behind in payments. The district said the church paid debts for 226 families totaling around $6,000. The rest of the donation money is set aside to help students for the rest of the school year.

"I think it takes a little bit of the burden off of them when you feel behind on something and someone takes that away," Bryant explained. "You have a fresh start and it's a wonderful feeling.

"This is for any students' family who may have fallen behind on their meal accounts and it could happen to anybody," Bryant said.

At Monday night's Royse City ISD school board meeting, the district thanked Everson and the Royse City First United Methodist Church congregation for identifying a need and filling it

"There are kids who need this help and if our communities do what I feel we are called to do, just as human beings, we need to take care of our students because they are the future of our world," Everson said.

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