Woman Takes Time To Pay Off Overdue School Lunch Accounts So Kids Can Graduate — ‘Nobody’s Advocating For These Students’

The very concept of school lunch debt is dystopian and cruel, and she's decided to change it one payment at a time.

little girl with school lunch debt in a cafeteria pixelshot | spxChrome / Getty Images Signature | SDI Productions / Getty Images Signature | Canva Pro

If you say the phrase "school lunch debt" to anyone outside of America they will look at you like you are an alien who just descended the steps of a spaceship. The mere concept of children having debt imposed on them by a school that their parents' tax dollars pay for — incurred by eating no less — is so absolutely insane it seems like it has to be satire.

Sadly, it's a very real issue that wreaks havoc on many kids' lives. So, one woman is taking it upon herself to fix it one student at a time, by opening her wallet and founding a non-profit so others can do the same.


The woman is paying off kids' school lunch debt so they can graduate high school.

As education funding continues to be consistently attacked by legislators in states nationwide, school lunch debt has become a staggering problem in the U.S., and we're not just talking about 10 bucks here and there.

According to the School Nutrition Association, the median school lunch debt per district is $5,164, with some districts' debts climbing into the millions.

RELATED: Ohio Elementary School Says Any Kid With A Negative Lunch Balance Can't Enjoy Ice Cream With Their Peers Even If They Bring In $1 To Pay


These costs end up falling on students and their parents — people who are already struggling financially, or they wouldn't be relying on food at school in the first place. When they can't pay, they are often forbidden from participating in things like field trips, concerts, or even graduating from high school.

It is an absurd, unconscionable system that only a country as broken as America would ever even think of allowing to exist. Sarah Stusek, a media producer and writer, has decided she's had enough, and in 2022 decided to start doing something about it.

Stusek says 'Nobody is advocating for these kids,' so she's heroically decided to do it herself.

In a recent TikTok video, Stusek painted a picture of the infuriating ways this problem tends to manifest in the lives of students. Stusek filmed herself contacting a Maryland high school to pay off the school lunch debt of a student who was being barred from graduating and receiving her diploma because of it.

It should be pretty simple right? She calls, makes the payments, and the kid moves on with her life. But that's not at all how it went.

@sarahshooots properhelpfoundation.com @Proper Help ♬ original sound - sarahshooots

First, Stusek was told she couldn't pay the student's debt off entirely because the school's system, for some reason, can only accept $120 in payments per day. "I paid off $120 yesterday and $120 today but it's not gonna be paid off in time for graduation," Stusek explained.

When she went over the school's head to try to rectify the problem, those in charge said that the district is actually not allowed to hold a kid back from graduation over lunch debt. Suddenly, a new debt appeared that was stated to be the reason the student couldn't graduate.

"I'm going to keep doing the best I can but I feel like no one is advocating for these students," Stusek said, going on to call the situation "embarrassing," which is saying the very least.

@yourtango An Ohio elementary school got itself into some hot water on social media when it said that students with negative lunch balances couldn’t participate in ice cream Fridays. #school #schoollunch #icecream #schoollunchdebt #parentsoftiktok #teachersoftiktok ♬ original sound - YourTango

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In order to help even more, Stusek registered a non-profit organization dedicated to paying off kids' school lunch debt.

In 2022, Stusek took to social media to start advocating for these students. With the help of viewers who made donations, Stusek paid off $5000 of student lunch debt in just 30 days, at five different schools across three states.

When someone reached out to say they'd donate their inheritance if she started a legitimate non-profit, it got her thinking. She recently completed the process of doing just that, registering with the IRS as a legit non-profit 501(c)3 organization, the Proper Help Foundation.


"My goal is to prove that there is a need for universal student lunch," she said in a video. "Paying for lunch is out of their control," she went on to say of the students she helps, "because they're children." 

Proper Help has also begun helping families with other necessities, from groceries to mattresses. You can donate here if you'd like to help too.

It's tempting to feel all warm and fuzzy about this story, but we need to focus on the problems that created the need in the first place. 

There's no denying the heroism and the extraordinary good that Stusek and her donors are doing, and it's a testament to the power of ordinary people to enact change. But, we as citizens must "walk and chew gum at the same time," as the saying goes.

It is unconscionable that her work is even necessary, and in a functioning society, it would be illegal for a child's entire future to be held up by debt in the richest country in the world — especially when these kids' parents' tax dollars pay for the school system they're indebted to in the first place.

@davidpakmanshow House Republicans introduce a bill to dismantle the Department of Education. #news #politics #republicans #education #school #davidpakman #foryoupage ♬ original sound- David Pakman

The need for Stusek's work should fill every one of us with seething rage that we live in a nation whose politicians place so little value on education and on taking care of the citizens who pay for everything in this country, including those politicians' salaries.

Maybe we should spend a little less time and energy banning books and legislating LGBTQ+ students' and teachers' private lives, and a bit more on funding schools so that this absurdly, infuriatingly, uniquely American situation of saddling 8-year-olds with debt for the privilege of eating lunch wouldn't be necessary.

@couriernewsroom WATCH: Rep. Summer Lee calls out Republican efforts to defund public education and ban books: “If Republicans don’t like what you’re reading, they’ll do everything in their power to keep you from reading it even if it’s literally just talking about the history of this country.” #politics #fyp #summerlee #education ♬ original sound - COURIER

Sadly, until we wake up, get our priorities in order, and oust the politicians allowing this barbaric system to continue, we'll have to rely on ordinary citizens like Stusek here in the "land of opportunity."

Thank God for her, her donors, and all the others doing similar work, because it's painfully obvious at this point that neither our politicians nor most of the people voting them into office can be bothered to care. We have an opportunity to do something about them in November. Here's hoping we seize it.

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John Sundholm is a news and entertainment writer who covers pop culture, social justice and human interest topics.