Keith Kohler’s daughter Kari Kohler worked as a food and nutrition employee at Charles Hay World School in Englewood for a year until she died of cancer at age 35 last October. When she would get …
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Keith Kohler’s daughter Kari Kohler worked as a food and nutrition employee at Charles Hay World School in Englewood for a year until she died of cancer at age 35 last October.
When she would get off work, she would tell her father about the students at the school who couldn’t afford to pay for their lunches. The elder Kohler said she was passionate about her job and the students at Charles Hay World School, and when she passed, he wanted to find a way to honor his daughter.
So he set up a fundraiser to help Englewood Schools students pay off their lunch debt.
Because of the fundraiser and other financial contributions to Englewood Schools from the Charles Hay World School Parent Teacher Student Association and an anonymous donor, no family in the school district will have to worry about unpaid lunch debt this year. Englewood Schools Director of Nutrition Services Katie Cossette said the lunch debt amounted to a little over $3,000.
“I just know that if (Kari) had been able to see this and to see that it was done in her honor — it would have meant everything to her,” said Keith Kohler. His fundraiser raised $1,500.
The Charles Hay World School PTSA has worked in the past to help students at the school pay off their lunch debt. This year, the PTSA raised nearly $1,400.
“It is great to do something that impacts so many people. If people out there knew (school lunch debt) is an issue, it might encourage them to check with their schools,” said Jason Spiller, treasurer for the Charles Hay World School PTSA.
When lunch debt goes unpaid, Englewood Schools uses its general fund to pay it off. In the past, the district has had to pay over $40,000 in unpaid lunch debt.
Englewood Schools set up a new charge policy two years ago that allows for students to charge a maximum of three meals at a given time to their account while accumulating debt. After the third meal charge, students are provided 10 free alternative lunches that consist of fruit, milk, vegetables and a sandwich.
The charge policy has helped the school district control negative balances, Cossette said. Parents who are enrolled in free and reduced-price lunch have to fill out an application each year, and Cossette says there are cases when parents forget to fill out the application or don’t know they have to, adding to the district’s lunch debt. She said Englewood Schools is constantly reaching out to those families to help them enroll in free and reduced lunch.
“There are some unique circumstances where we have to reach out to the state for guidance, but that application is so essential into making sure they get those benefits,” said Cossette. “I think it’s phenomenal to be in a community where our community members are so involved. It’s incredible to me to see them wanting to take care of the lunch debt.”
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