Minnesota Timberwolves CEO Ethan Casson (center) presents a $15,000 check to pay off overdue Minneapolis Public Schools lunch accounts. Supt. Ed Graff (right)  and Director of Culinary and Wellness Services Bertrand Weber (left) are also pictured. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Minnesota Timberwolves CEO Ethan Casson (center) presents a $15,000 check to pay off overdue Minneapolis Public Schools lunch accounts. Supt. Ed Graff (right) and Director of Culinary and Wellness Services Bertrand Weber (left) are also pictured. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Lunch-accounts campaign raises about $99,000

Updated: January 4, 2017 - 12:53 pm

The Minneapolis Public Schools community has raised about $99,000 this month to pay off overdue lunch balances.

More than 1,300 people donated to the campaign within a couple weeks of its launch, said Grant Funding and Resource Development Coordinator Kerry York. Most donations were in the $20 to $50 range, she said.

“It has escalated much more quickly than we ever anticipated,” York said. “I think that shows a lot about the quality of our community and what they care about.”

About 4,000 MPS students had a combined negative balance of $160,000 before the campaign.

The campaign has its roots with Brooklyn-based writer Ashley Ford, who tweeted that a “cool thing” people could do is pay off overdue lunch accounts. MPS parent Geri Katz shared the tweet with the Burroughs Community School parent Facebook group. Group member Jeremy Kalin saw the post and had a colleague set up a website to encourage donations.

“The response was amazing,” Kalin said, noting that a subsequent Facebook post was shared more than 1,000 times. “I think people are really hungry to do something meaningful.”

About 64 percent of MPS students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, but a large number of families don’t quite hit the threshold, according to Director of Culinary and Wellness Services Bertrand Weber. Those families tend to struggle more to pay for lunch, said Culinary and Nutrition Services Business Manager Michele Carroll.

The district feeds students regardless of their lunch-account balance, York said. Staff members will either put a note in a kid’s folder or mail one home to try and collect overdue balances, Carroll said.

York said the district would love to see the entire $160,000 balance paid off. The effort was boosted Thursday, when the staff of the Minnesota Timberwovles donated $15,000 to the campaign.

Team CEO Ethan Casson said donations came from individual staff members.

A campaign for St. Paul Public Schools raised more than $28,000 to pay off all overdue accounts. An anonymous donor gave more than $5,000 to pay off overdue accounts at Maple Grove High School.

Visit mpls.k12.mn.us/helpmpskids to learn about the campaign or to donate.