Fort Bragg families have thousands in school lunch debt
By DREW BROOKS | The Fayetteville Observer, N.C. | Published: August 16, 2018
FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — No child goes hungry in a Fort Bragg school.
That’s a promise, officials said.
But to keep that promise, the on-post school system footed a $32,000 bill last school year to cover families in arrears of the school lunch program.
The revelation shocked some when it was revealed during a Fort Bragg garrison town hall meeting on Wednesday.
“I’m just flabbergasted that this is going on at Fort Bragg,” one attendee said during the meeting, which was broadcast live online.
Charlie Council, chief of staff for the Mid-Atlantic District of the Department of Defense Education Activity, said the $32,000 school lunch debt is not typical.
“This was our worst year ever,” he said.
And Fort Bragg leaders said steps are being taken to address the issue by better identifying the needs of soldiers and their families.
“We found out about it weeks before school closed,” said Col. Kyle Reed, Fort Bragg’s garrison commander.
Reed reiterated that no child in a Fort Bragg school would be withheld lunch, regardless of debt. And he said a new system was in place to reach out to unit chains of command to provide additional support to families in need.
The school lunch debt was one of several issues brought up during the town hall meeting, which lasted two hours.
The meeting was an opportunity to spread information about community events and programs, officials said, while also getting input from the Fort Bragg community.
Attendees expressed concerns about on-post housing, the condition of roadways, speeding across post and many other issues.
The issue of school lunch debt is not unique to Fort Bragg or military schools.
Crowdfunding websites like gofundme.com show dozens of campaigns to raise money to pay off lunch debt, including more than $70,000 raised to cover debt in Durham County schools.
Council said approximately 4,000 children attend Fort Bragg’s nine schools, which serve students from prekindergarten through eighth grade.
The first day of school for most Fort Bragg students is Aug. 27, he said. Kindergarten starts on Aug. 28, and pre-k begins Sept. 11.
Council said the school system is open to donations to cover the costs of students in lunch debt.
“You can donate to Fort Bragg school’s cafeteria fund,” he said, with donations able to cover specific students or schools.
Council said he did not know how many students were included in the $32,000 debt, but promised it would have no effect on the children.
“There is no child in a DODEA school that is not fed,” he said. “Whether they have money or not.”
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