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3 Kennewick businesses pay off elementary kids’ lunch debt for Red Nose Day

Joel Watson, owner of Just Joel’s, partnered with Paulina Perez of Eat Hot Tamales and Cheryl Gillespie of Jiffy Car Wash to pay off the $1,200 student lunch debt bill at Southgate Elementary in honor of Red Nose Day, created to fight child poverty.
Joel Watson, owner of Just Joel’s, partnered with Paulina Perez of Eat Hot Tamales and Cheryl Gillespie of Jiffy Car Wash to pay off the $1,200 student lunch debt bill at Southgate Elementary in honor of Red Nose Day, created to fight child poverty. Tri-City Herald

When a friend asked Joel Watson to help celebrate Red Nose Day, he didn’t hesitate to fork over $100 to buy 50 novelty noses to fight childhood poverty.

He figured he’d round up 50 friends and fans for a big Red Nose photo op, then post it to the Facebook page for his downtown diner, Just Joel’s.

When he woke up Thursday, he decided a Red Nose photo post wasn’t enough.

So Watson headed to his old elementary school, Westgate, and asked about paying off student lunch debt.

It turned out there was no unpaid lunch bill. Westgate is one of 13 Kennewick schools where all kids eat free.

The staff suggested he visit Southgate Elementary, where the unpaid student lunch debt balance was $1,200.

It was a bit steep for one small business owner, so Watson enlisted two friends and business owners up the street, Paulina Perez of Eat Hot Tamales and Cheryl Gillespie of Jiffy Car Wash.

They all chipped in and paid the bill on Thursday.

“I’m just trying to give back and inspire others,” Watson said. “This is our home.”

“We continue to be amazed by the many acts of kindness community members show our students. Kennewick is a shining example of what can be achieved when you have a supportive community with pride in its schools,” said the Kennewick School District.

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