SYRACUSE — Some struggling families in the Wawasee School Corp. had their loads lightened a bit thanks to recent donations to the school system.

Two recent donations in particular, including a $750 donation from the American Legion Wawasee Post 223 and an anonymous donation of $2,500 to be split between the schools, have been used to directly help students.

Tammy Hutchinson, administrative assistant to Wawasee School Superintendent Thomas Edington, said the $2,500 anonymous donation was divided between each school in the system, including Wawasee High School, Wawasee Middle School, North Webster Elementary, Syracuse Elementary and Milford School, which teaches kindergarten through eighth-ade students.

Each school received $500 and, according to Hutchinson, “Each principal determined what to use it for, but it was all used for students’ needs.”

Hutchinson explained the need in the school system: practically everyone knows about someone who can’t afford doctor or dentist visits or to buy clothes.

“Like most school corporations,” he added.

Legion Pays Lunch Bills

American Legion Wawasee Post 223 Commander Mark Davis explained the Legion got involved in paying some middle school lunch bills.

“It started as an interaction between a member and an employee of the school,” Davis said. “Once we realized the impact and the reality that these families were not able to meet the requirements of the cost, we did some research. Then we brought it to a meeting and voted on it.”

“That’s what we do,” he added.

Davis said the Legion didn’t have specific fundraisers to help pay the lunch debt because they raise funds all year around.

“How we decide to spend it is at our luxury,” he said.

Some of the things they’ve done to raise funds include a chili cook-off, a golf outing and tip boards and raffles at the Legion. The commander said in addition to helping the school, they’ve also donated numerous flags, most recently to the Wawasee Chamber of Commerce, as well as the community center; they’ve partnered with Coors Light for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital; and they contribute to Toys for Tots.

“We do what we can do in the community as a way of giving back,” he said. “We don’t keep any of the funds raised.”

Davis said Legion members approved the $750 donation at their September meeting. “The need was felt at the middle school,” he said.

In addition to that donation for the lunch debt, Davis said the Legion has two donation boxes out for donations that will be given to the school corporation to spend as they desire. He expects that may happen at month’s end before Legion members start getting into the Toys for Tots collection.

Donation Put to Use

Director of Nutrition Services for Wawasee School Corp. Jane Holloway admitted “the need is great.”

She said the $750 donation went to help three families.

“And let me be clear that it didn’t take them completely out of debt, but it made it lighter on the families,” she said.

Each of those three families had $250 deducted from the debt owed to the school for their student’s lunch.

“I wish we could’ve helped more but we knew if we spread it out more it wouldn’t even make a dent in what they owe,” she said.

Holloway said there are “quite a few families” at the middle school alone that have a large debt, some carried over from last year or for a couple of years. She said the school corporation did away with the alternate meal plan because it singled out students and made them feel different and ashamed.

“I’m so thankful they did away with it,” she said.

Even still, she said, at the ages of the students they’re not unaware. She said they get a glance at the balance owed and give a big sigh or even try to apologize.

“They shouldn’t have to feel responsible,” Holloway said.

Holloway said this year the staff sent out letters to service organizations and individuals asking for donations to help pay that debt, but the American Legion members approached them asking if they could help.

The families that were helped had circumstances that caused the parents to be indisposed for awhile. She said the determination was made based on circumstances such as a fire, illness or divorce in the family, and the amount owed. She said the school sent a letter to the family informing them of the donation and subsequent reduction in their debt and also sent an application for free or reduced-lunch program. Holloway said they received one thank you, which she is passing on to the Legion members.

She said the school corporation does make attempts to get the debts paid, but unfortunately, realizes they probably won’t recover most of it. So, donations like the one received from the Legion and others are greatly appreciated.

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Correspondent and columnist for The Goshen News

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