Organizations pay off Cobb, Marietta student lunch debt

Thousands of Marietta and Cobb County students will be able to eat a hot meal thanks to $19,000 in donations to pay off school meal debt.

Several organizations recently came together to donate thousands of dollars to wipe out student meal debt for students in the Marietta City and Cobb County school districts.

Many would not consider Cobb County a suburb where hunger is common. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median household income for Cobb County in 2018 is $75,153. About 9% of Cobb residents were classified as living in poverty.

Despite that income level, school district officials report more than 40,000 students in Cobb receive free and reduced-price lunches. A little more than half of Marietta City School students — 4,900 pupils — are enrolled in the program.

A little more than $9,000 from 27 donors was given to Marietta’s Lunch Angels program, said school system spokeswoman Jen Brock. The top three donors were SA Recycling, Marietta First United Methodist Church and LGE Community Foundation — the nonprofit arm of LGE Community Credit Union.

“We truly appreciate every donation and are humbled and grateful for the support that our students and our schools receive from the community,” Brock said.

The Cobb County Police Department and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 13 also donated $10,000 in December to pay off the lunch debt for Cobb County School District students. Cobb schools said the students accumulated the debt before they enrolled in the free and reduced-price lunch program.

READ: Free school meals now require applications in Marietta

In both school districts, students who can’t pay for meals are allowed to charge a small number of meals: In Cobb, elementary students can charge up to $7.05.

Once they reach the charge limit, Marietta City Schools students are provided an alternate meal of a cheese sandwich and milk or juice, according to the system's policy.

Emily Hanlin, Cobb schools executive director of Food and Nutrition Services, said the district does not provide alternate meals, but a “regular hot meal.”

Both school districts charge for breakfast and lunch. In Marietta, breakfast costs $1.80 and lunch starts at $2.45.

Breakfast in Cobb costs about $1.50 per day for all students, and lunch prices are $2.35 for elementary students and $2.60 for middle and high school students.

Hanlin said for some students, the school meals might be their only meals on any given day.

"So, hunger in this community is a real issue," she said. "A lot of parents will call and say, 'I don't have the funds to pay off the account. Now, we can tell those parents, 'Don't worry about it. Don't stress.'"

Brian Smith, associate minister at Marietta First United Methodist Church, said his congregation collected about $3,000 in donations on Christmas Eve.

“We love the Marietta community so much, and we wanted to help the local schools here in our backyard,” he said. “Everyone was very willing to give and support.”

Smith said he hopes other churches and community organizations will heed the call to relieve the burden students and families face when they can’t afford school breakfast and lunch.

“I hate the idea of people and students going hungry,” he said.

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