June 18 • 09:56 AM

Anonymous donor pays off student lunch debts

Others join a generous individual in wiping out lunch debts of kids

More than $5,000 has been given to help students at all three Almont schools.

December 12, 2018
ALMONT — Gestures of goodwill and generosity tend to be more bountiful during the holiday season.

But the gesture bestowed last week on Almont Schools by an anonymous benefactor stands out as particularly generous. Regardless of the season.

Schools' Supt. Bill Kalmar reported Monday that a good Samaritan contacted high school Principal Liz Tomhave last week with an offer to pay for all existing student lunch debts at the school.

Kalmar said that during a follow-up discussion with Tomhave, the individual additionally offered to pay off the student lunch debts at Orchard Primary and Almont Middle schools.

He noted that other secret donors joined in paying off the debts at Orchard Primary and the middle school.

"Overall, the donations amounted to more than $5,000," said Kalmar, who added that students' parents should notice the deduction in their child's food services account by the middle of this week.

Kalmar said that historically, schools had been able to charge back unpaid lunch funds to their food services account—which allowed schools to absorb lunch debt to a significant degree.

"However, the USDA (U.S. Dept. of Agriculture) changed the rule in 2016," Kalmar said. "Schools are now expected to more aggressively pursue those who have accumulated lunch debt for repayment (yet did not qualify for free or reduced lunch pricing)."

Kalmar said that per USDA information, 76% of U.S. schools are burdened by school lunch debt.

"In our district, efforts to collect outstanding debt meant that some students faced the possibility of not being allowed to engage in extra-curricular activities until the debts were paid, or a payment plan established," he said.

"The efforts of these benefactors have changed that for the better for our students."

Tomhave could not have been more pleased with the level of generosity shown her students and families.

"This was an extremely generous and selfless act of kindness that will affect a large number of our families," said Tomhave. "When the donor first told me of their intentions, I have to admit I got choked up.

"We read about these things happening in the news, but to have it happen in our community is inspiring.

"I wish to thank our benevolent benefactors for their goodwill and to have them know they have made a difference in the lives of many of our students."

Almont Middle School and Orchard Primary Principals Kim VonHiltmayer and Jennifer Szlachta also expressed their appreciation to the anonymous donors.

"This is amazing news," said VonHiltmayer. "A warm and heartfelt thank you to the donors. Our Almont students are very blessed."

Szlachta added: "This is a wonderful example of how a kind act can positively impact so many," she said. "What a wonderful community we have — supporting each other to make a positive difference."

Tom Wearing started at the Tri-City Times in 1989, covering the Village of Capac as a beat reporter. He later served stints as assistant editor and editor. Today, he covers Imlay City and Almont as a staff writer. He enjoys music and plays drums and sings with various musical groups in the Detroit Metropolitan area.
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