CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) — Thousands of Lowcountry students are struggling to pay for school-provided meals, and it's starting to add up.
"We just see a problem and want to help where we can," said Katie Dahlheim, founder of Lowcountry Blessing Box. She's hoping to help identify families struggling to pay off their debt.
As of Friday, the total amount of unpaid school meals for Charleston, Berkeley, and Dorchester District Two was more than $576,000.
"We don't necessarily think we can repay all of it. We’d love to give them a clean slate, but we don’t know if we can get to $500,000," Dahlheim added.
Lowcountry Blessing Box has launched an initiative called Catch Up on Lunch to combat the problem. People can donate at the accompanying website: catchuponlunch.com
Dahlheim said the group has partnered with four Swig & Swine locations, The Spot 47, and 82 Queen to help with the fundraiser, as well.
Dahlheim said that during the first four Sundays of March, Spot 47 will offer 10% of all sales toward helping families pay off that student debt.
Swig & Swine and 82 Queen will offer the same deal on four consecutive Tuesdays starting on April 23rd.
"Right now, we’re setting the bar at $50,000," said McKensie Kish, who works at Queen Street Hospitality. She says she and Dahlheim are working with Lowcountry school districts to identify those families who make too much money to qualify for free and reduced lunch, but are still struggling to pay back that meal debt.
"The schools really do care about these children. They really know who are struggling versus who is maybe just behind in paying but can afford it," Kish said.
"It is imperative that we help our families," said Debi Flomarino, Director of Nutrition and Food Services for Dorchester District Two.
She said the district sends any unpaid meal debts to a collection service at the end of the school year, but communicates regularly with families throughout the year to avoid that.
"We set up payment plans...anything we can do to repay the debt or not accrue it in the first place, we happily do," Flomarino said.
"We’d really like to help educate people and get rid of that social stigma...it’s okay to ask for help we all have to at some point or another," Kish said.
Officials with CCSD confirmed of the $100,079 owed for outstanding meal debt, only $5,681 are students accounts that are on the reduced meal price program.
CCSD students owe $100,079 in meal debt.
Berkeley County School District officials said their students currently owe around $320,000 for the 2018-2019 school year.
DD2 officials said students owe $156,124.52.