What started as a conversation between the founder of a popular Washington restaurant chain and his mother will help buy lunches for Richland students.
Mark Eggen, the man behind Hop Jack’s, and his mother were talking about the stigma attached to students receiving free and reduced lunch when she was in school.
“At the time there was a special line you had to go in and even specific items you were allowed to choose from,” said Jaime Fox, the restaurant’s director of training, safety and charities. “Mark began to think about this and decided that our restaurant company could make an impact.”
Hop Jack’s decided to donate 50 cents of every children’s meal it sold to help hungry kids, similar to its program that donates 25 cents of every beer to community charities.
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“We did not want to donate to large, nationwide organizations where we would never know where the money went and where there is often a lot of overhead costs,” Fox said.
We just want to help the kids once they get here so when that test comes up they’re able to focus.
Dawn Trumbull, Richland district nutrtion services director
Richland School District is one of 13 beneficiaries statewide, receiving $4,300 since joining the program in January. It will use the money to help students who wouldn’t otherwise get lunch, whether they are just short on funds in their lunch accounts, or their families are struggling but don’t qualify for the federal free lunch program.
The funds coincided with the district beginning to work on a plan for students needing to charge their meals, said Dawn Trumbull, the district’s nutrition services director. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and U.S. Department of Agriculture were looking for officials to create a set of practices.
While the district’s policy is to not allow students to charge their meals, it rarely works out in practice.
“For some reason, anytime lunch or free lunch is discussed, we get questions and concerns from the public ... about giving handouts,” Trumbull said. “Then when a lunch lady or guy refuses a lunch to a child because they have no money, they are the bad guy.”
Julie Soderquist, who processes all of the applications for free and reduced lunches, heard about a program called the superhero lunch fund that is run at other school districts. She decided to bring it to Richland, and that’s where the Hop Jack’s money will go.
Details still need to be worked out, Trumbull said, including how children can access the money. While she is unsure how many children it will help, she believes many can benefit.
“We just want to help the kids once they get here so when that test comes up they’re able to focus,” she said.
The school district is working on a way to allow people to donate to the fund outside of buying food at the restaurant, she said.