Chobani Company Helps Students Offered Jelly Sandwiches

The Associated Press
By The Associated Press
May 11, 2019USshare
Chobani Company Helps Students Offered Jelly Sandwiches
A first-grader uses fingerprint scanner to pay for lunch at Penn Cambria Pre-Primary School on March 1, 2002 in Cresson, PA. (William Thomas Cain/Getty Images)

PROVIDENCE, R.I.—The yogurt company Chobani plans to pay the school lunch debts of low-income families with students attending a district that made headlines by announcing children who owe money would get cold sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches instead of a hot meal, the mayor’s office confirmed on May 10.

The office of Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon said it is coordinating with Chobani to accept nearly $50,000, the amount owed by low-income families with children in Warwick Public Schools.

Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya tweeted on May 9 that as a parent, the news broke his heart. Access to nutritious food should be a right, not a privilege, he said.

“Chobani is doing our small part to help pay this debt,” he wrote on Twitter. “Business must do its part.. our responsibility as members of community. who will join us?”

“The last thing that kids should worry about today is if there’s a warm lunch for them at school, and the shame they might feel if their classmates realize they can’t afford a school lunch,” Chobani noted in a press release according to WJAR.

Chobani was but one of the businesses and organizations that offered to donate money to the district, officials said.

The mayor’s office is trying to plan an event to accept the donations formally, spokeswoman Courtney Marciano said, and there has been an outpouring of support from across the country.

Chobani, based in Norwich, New York, is also looking to donate yogurt to the schools, a spokesman said.

Solomon and state Rep. Joseph Shekarchi, majority leader of the Rhode Island House, said they want to work with Chobani to bring attention to food insecurity among students nationally.

chobani founder Hamdi Ulukaya
Hamdi Ulukaya, founder, chairman and CEO of Chobani, on Jan. 16, 2018. (Mark Lennihan/AP Photo)

The Jelly Sandwich Situation

Warwick Public Schools announced on May 5 via Facebook: “Effective Monday, May 13, 2019, if money is owed on a paid, free, or reduced lunch account a sun butter and jelly sandwich will be given as the lunch choice until the balance owed is paid in full or a payment plan is set up.”

Students who qualify for free meals can still run up a debt by adding extras to their lunch trays, such as milk, which are not included in the free lunch, according to parents who commented on Facebook at the time.

Warwick Public Schools had said it was owed $77,000 and couldn’t assume more debt, sparking a public backlash and upsetting the mayor, who asked the school committee to reconsider. It later reversed the decision.

School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus said on Facebook on May 8 that committee members have recommended that students get their choice of lunch regardless of their account status.

The district includes 19 schools. About 1,650 students owed money as of last Friday, May 3, and about 70 percent of those students are not enrolled in the program for free or reduced-price lunches, according to the school committee.

While some labeled it as “food shaming” the poor, other parents encouraged each other to help settle any outstanding debts with donations.

About $14,000 was collected from families with outstanding balances this week, after the cold sandwich policy was announced, Bachus said.

School leaders are working with attorneys on a way to accept donations to help settle lunch debt after a local restaurant owner said the district twice turned down his offer to donate $4,000, Bachus said.

Leaders are trying to find a balance between being fiscally responsible and ensuring all students get a healthy, nutritious lunch, she said.

Warwick is the second largest city in the state, with a population of just over 80,000. All public schools in Rhode Island are mandated by state law to provide lunches. Pending legislation would change state law making free hot lunches available for all students regardless of income.

NTD staff contributed to this report

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