FAIRFIELD, Ohio — Scraping together the money to pay for a school lunch every day can be a challenge for many families, and the uncertainty of whether they can get lunch can also affect students' performance in school overall.
Fairfield City Elementary schools try to offset this challenge by providing PB&J or cheese sandwiches for students who can't afford lunches, but that option can leave some students still hungry, and doesn't account for dietary restrictions like allergies.
The district also said some families who don't qualify for free or reduced lunch still struggle to get the money together for a daily lunch.
"We want every student to go through the line, to be treated the same, to have the same lunch as every other child," said Jeff Madden, director of student services for Fairfield City Schools.
Enter Ted McDaniel, founder and president of the non-profit Dougie & Ray's.
"I want kids to be kids and not have the nervousness of adult responsibilities put on them," said McDaniel.
Dougie & Ray's is working to ensure that kids can just be kids, and shed their worries over where their lunch meal could be coming from.
The organization's Lunch It Forward program starts this week in Fairfield Elementary schools and will help pay off lunch debt for the youngest students in the district.
"We've all been in hard places," said McDaniel. "We've all had bills. This is a great way to let the kids know they're going to eat every day, no matter what."
The overall goal of the Lunch It Forward program is to encourage families who use it to pay it forward, donating back into the program to provide lunch for other students when they're financially able. The district said they're already seeing this happen.
"We've had parents reach out and say 'Hey what a great concept. Here's $100. We want to participate in this Lunch It Forward program,'" said Madden.
Based on how many students relied on alternative lunches over the last few years, the district estimates this program will contribute about $15,000 to help Fairfield children get a full lunch.