Cafeteria workers serve students at Newark High School in 2019

The Newark Area Welfare Committee wiped away the school lunch debt of hundreds of Christina School District students, giving those kids a clean slate when schools finally return to normal.

The nonprofit recently wrote the district a check for $10,352, enough to clear the lunch debt of every student in the district, according to Polly Sierer, president of NAWC. This marks the second time in two years the organization has done so; in 2019, it donated $6,000 to clear the debt for 850 students.

Many students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches based on their families’ income, and some schools have so many low-income students they qualify for a federal program that provides free lunches for every student in the school.

Students who don’t qualify for free lunches are allowed to charge their lunch to their account if they don’t have money with them. In middle and high schools, students can charge up to a full week of breakfast and a full week of lunch before their food options are limited.

“We wanted to make sure that all of the children have a healthy meal and have the opportunity to receive the meals that all the children in the schools are getting,” Sierer said.

Standard lunches cost $1.50 for elementary school students and $1.75 for older students. Reduced-price meals are 40 cents.

During the pandemic, the federal government has funded free meals for all students, regardless, of income. Christina has provided those meals through curbside pickup at schools and used school buses to deliver them to certain neighborhoods.

Once that program ends and students return to school, the NAWC donation means that all students will be starting with a clean slate, rather than owing money for past lunches.

The donation was paid for by part of the more than $30,000 NAWC has raised during the pandemic, money that is still rolling in, Sierer said.

The nonprofit – which for nearly 100 years has helped Newarkers in need pay for food, utility bills, rent, prescription medicines and other necessities of life – made a fundraising push earlier this year knowing that the pandemic and the economic shutdown would increase need here in Newark.

Early on in the pandemic, the organization provided meals and restaurant gift cards to homeless people and others in need. Now, its focus is shifting to assisting people with rent and bills.

“Families are out of work, they’re having to stay home because they’re a caregiver or stay home because their kids are not in school, and so they’re going to ultimately have concerns with their utility payments and their rent, in particular, but also food,” Sierer said. “We’re starting to see some uptick in that. We anticipate a huge surge in rental assistance need.”

NAWC also recently donated $12,000 to the Newark Police Athletic League to buy a community outreach trailer. PAL will use the trailer to take games, toys and other supplies to local parks to hold events for local kids.

The Newark Morning Rotary Club donated additional funds to outfit the trailer with a generator, coloring books, bike helmets, a freezer and other supplies.

“It’s the first time NAWC has made such a purchase that’s a lasting legacy,” Sierer said. “Usually, we’re providing services or food, but we decided this was really a good way to contribute to the community on a long-term basis.”

Meanwhile, NAWC is gearing up for a fundraising campaign to fund its annual holiday food box program.

For years, the organization has recruited schools and other groups to hold food drives and then gathered dozens of people to pack the food into boxes for distribution to more than 300 families a few days before Christmas. Because most of the food is donated, the effort usually only costs NAWC $6,000.

This year, however, the pandemic has made holding food drives and packing the boxes impractical, so the organization instead plans to provide each family with a grocery store gift card.

NAWC is aiming to raise $45,000 to provide gift cards to up to 600 people, Sierer said.

The group is accepting monetary donations at Residents can also send checks to PO Box 951, Newark, DE 19715-0951.

People in need should contact The Hudson State Service Center, which can refer them to NAWC and other community services. The center is located at 501 Ogletown Road, between Wawa and the U.S. Post Office, and can be reached at 302-283-7500.

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