‘School Lunch Fairy' Pays off Student Meal Debts in Vt. City

A South Burlington community member donated almost $3,000 to cover cafeteria balances at one of the city’s elementary schools

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Schools in two separate Vermont school districts said this week they received surprise gifts from community members to pay off students' school lunch debts.

One of those donors, who spoke to NECN under the condition the news station would not use her name or image, is known as the "school lunch fairy" in the cafeteria of the Chamberlin School in South Burlington.

"We're happy to do it," the mom said Friday. "Providing lunch for children in the community is just a very basic need."

The fairy flew in to pay off nearly $3,000 in breakfast and lunch debt for the elementary schoolers at Chamberlin, the school said.

That move impressed cafeteria employee Cheryl Schifilliti.

"It's pretty amazing for some of these kids to start out fresh," Schifilliti said of the gift from the anonymous donor and her spouse.

Holly Rouelle, the principal of the Chamberlin School, said the community members have covered debts before, but their latest gift was larger because new guidelines mean fewer Chamberlin families now qualify for free and reduced school meals.

That means more parents are facing challenges paying for food, Rouelle said.

"I know many of our parents are struggling just to put food on their home tables, pay their bills, put gas in their car," Rouelle said. "So when that school lunch account starts to creep up into the hundreds of dollars, it gets harder and harder to pay off."

In Vermont's capital, Montpelier, Union Elementary said this week a separate anonymous gift took student food accounts there from the red to the black — almost $2,000 worth.

Back at Chamberlin, yet another donor stepped up with $200 to help start 2020 with a surplus in the cafeteria, Rouelle told NECN.

"People don't have to pay off the whole balance to make a difference," the school lunch fairy observed.

That anonymous donor is now challenging people in other districts to stand up and do whatever they can to combat hunger or food insecurity where they live.

"It's an easy, quick way to make a real difference in the community," the fairy said.

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