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Billings father in final push to wipe out student lunch debt across district

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Posted at 8:34 AM, Apr 17, 2024

BILLINGS- It’s been eight months since a Billings father embarked on a mission to end student lunch debt for families in Billings Public Schools.

His goal is in reach, but Alex Clark says he needs several thousand more in donations to wipe out all debt through the end of the school year.

“We are at approximately $20,000 raised,” said Clark.

It all started in the fall of 2023 when he took to social media to address an issue plaguing many families in Billings who often find themselves falling behind on bills to feed their student attending Billings Public Schools.

He started with raising awareness, and that effort resulted in donations pouring in and a plan to manage those donations with the help of the Billings Education Foundation.

Clark knew he needed to keep going because more students and their families would inevitably fall behind as the school year progressed.

“This was supposed to be a small project for friends,” he said. “It turned out to be something much bigger than that.”

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Clark knows all too well how important a sturdy meal is. He has two growing boys both attending Billings School District 2.

With a little more than a month before school ends, the community has come together to raise enough to wipe out nearly all the debt.

“We are about to do something that is historical, which is pay off school lunch debt for the entirety of the year, which has never been done before,” said Clark.

Any parent with a child or even several children attending the district know a meal at the district can get spendy.

Parents are paying roughly $60 for 20 days of lunches for one child who’s not on a free or reduced plan.

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Clark says only roughly 5 percent of families even qualify for free or reduced school lunches, so what ends up happening is the debt plagues families not in that financial threshold. Free and reduced meals are based on federal income guidelines.

“Ninety-five percent of folks who run the school lunch debt are middle America,” he said. “Folks who make too much for free and reduced but folks who make too much to really get by," Clark said.

He says it’s just another impact to the cost of raising a family these days.

He’s looking for a long-term solution in the district, something he knows can happen as other states do the same.

Michigan is one of the latest states to enact free school lunch funding for all public-school students.

“So, this is possible. We already have the road map. We already have the ability to see how to put this in place,” he said. 

Hungry students lose focus it’s a proven fact when officials talk about the importance of a healthy meal at school.

It’s also why Clark is so passionate.

He says they’re still $5,000 to $6,000 shy of meeting the goal for the year to wipe out all student lunch debt in the district.

There is a fundraiser at Craft Local April 19 at 7 p.m. in downtown Billings, where proceeds go to the cause.