February 5th, 2014
02:45 PM ET
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Last week, dozens of children at a Utah elementary school had their lunch trays snatched away from them before they could take a bite. Workers at Uintah Elementary School removed the already-served food because some students had negative balances in the accounts used to pay for lunches.

Kenny Thompson didn't want to see that repeated at Houston's Valley Oaks Elementary School. KPRC reports that on Monday, the longtime mentor and tutor paid off the negative lunch account balances of more than 60 students.

Thompson told KPRC, "I know that's probably a situation at my school, and the school my son goes to, and the other schools I mentor at. So I came in and inquired about it."

He didn't just inquire. He handed over $465 of his own money to zero out the accounts of the children who were potentially affected - many of whom were already on reduced lunch that cost just 40 cents a day.

Previously:
At Utah school, there really was no such thing as a free lunch
Stall confessions: Life lessons from my lunch box
The kid with the stinky lunch
USDA launches Greek yogurt program in national schools
School snacks are about to get healthier
Study finds school breakfast is a key to future success

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Filed under: Charity • Human Rights • Hunger • Local Heroes • School Lunch


soundoff (66 Responses)
  1. Marlene price

    Hey this is great I worked with his wife Susan and Kenny is a wonderful person,yes, the parents should be responsible
    I bet they had nice lunches but some people shouldn't have children you go Kenny and susan

    February 17, 2014 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  2. Kelly

    I think schools should suspend corporations.

    February 9, 2014 at 8:08 am | Reply
  3. rainbow

    Suggestion here, for those kids that are not on the free lunch program, require the parents to send in a box of power bars/granola bars the first Monday of each month. Also require the parents to send in a plastic drink bottle (like you can get at any dollar store). If the kid has no sack lunch or no money in their lunch account, then they have their power/ granola bar and a bottle to fill up with water from the water fountain. The kid doesn't "starve" and doesn't have to beg food from friends.

    February 8, 2014 at 7:54 pm | Reply
  4. rainbow

    With all the stories in the past few months about kids' lunches being thrown out due to negative balances on accounts, I think it is time to stop having accounts and go back to the old fashioned cash on the barrel head. No cash, no lunch, end of story. How many of these forgetful parents forget to pack their own lunches and/or forget to stop at the atm for their own lunch money. Time for these forgetful parents to start remembering their kids and remember to either put a sack lunch or lunch money in their little darling's hands before they get on the bus. By the time the kids are in fourth or fifth grade the kids themselves are old and big enough to be making their own sack lunches. It's not that hard to make a PB&J sandwich and put a few cookies or chips in a zip lock bag. And YES, I was making my own school lunches back in the fourth grade.

    February 8, 2014 at 7:35 pm | Reply
  5. rcouts

    1. I call this man a hero.
    His solution is a temporary fix. It is not his place to fix the problem but rather the parents though.
    2. It is not the government's place to be handing out handouts either.
    3. It is the responsibility of the school to notify the parents of outstanding balances and or report child neglect issues to the authorities. Please note item 2. Just because you might report someone doesn’t mean I am saying the kids should be taken out of their home. I am NOT. I am merely saying that authorities should be notified so that information can be gathered as to the wellbeing of the children. It is child services position to help parents and maybe even educate them on childcare and fiscal responsibility. If these children are from affluent homes and they really can afford the meals, then fine them for child neglect just like you get fined for parking in front of a hydrant or something. They get fined enough, and they will not keep missing their kid’s meals. I merely point out some potential options. I know that no single option is the best solution, but it would be a step in the right direction
    3. Children are learning and cannot be held responsible for their parent’s bad parenting and negligence. Sure some students catch on quicker than others. These are kids and it is not a kid’s responsibility to be financially responsible right away. This obligation falls to the parents.
    5. If parents are neglecting their kids, they need to let go of their pride and ask for assistance and not be ashamed if they truly need help. If they truly need help, then people will help them.
    I commend the gentleman for his kind acts as it temporarily relieves stress from the students. Students need good role models. Those role models do start at home. If parents do not engage with their kids at home and at school they miss out as well as the students. In the long run the children suffer due to this negligence.
    Lastly I say kudos to this Man for helping Shame on the parents. Parents are responsible for their children and their actions. They are responsible for bring them up in a safe and nurturing environment. Children are a reflection of their parents or those raising them. So the question here is. Is anyone raising these children? Are the parents at home spending time with their children? These are the questions that you should be asking yourselves. The second biggest shame is that any kid should miss a meal in this country that has the most to offer in the world. It’s unforgiveable in my book.
    I am not a writer and this is one of my first public comments. These are my views and opinions. This is more of a post of encouragement and finding possible solutions to problems. I am not here to say hey here is a problem and bad mouth people. I want to say hey, “Awesome”. What solutions are available to help this problem moving forward?
    A little about myself:
    I was adopted after age eight. I had lived with my biological parents. I have lived in foster home and children home before being adopted. Even though my parents gave me up, I never missed a day of food that I can recall since age four. I started out in LA, California and ended up in Nashville, TN after living ten years overseas. I have a wife and four wonderful children (that keep us very busy). I went two years without work 2009-2011. I have not been on government assistance. My parents raised us to own up to our mistakes face them and learn from them and move on. You reap what you sow. They were some of the best influences in my life. They started teaching us about finances at age eight by giving us allowances. Wasn’t much maybe a quarter or fifty cents a week? But they taught us at an early age about responsibility honesty, choices, and consequences. Sure we didn’t learn it right away because we were young, but just like school, it is the repetition that allows you to learn it and when you experience it you are better equipped to handle it.
    Anyways I loved the article and thought it very positive, helpful, and inspirational to see people out there making a difference. Way to go Kenny Thompson

    February 7, 2014 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  6. Mr. Balls

    HERO

    February 7, 2014 at 12:58 am | Reply
  7. Reader

    People should do their research before allowing a story to make national news. The school in question is not even a title I campus. The property values of this area are in the $450,000 range. For Texas, that is a lot! These people could afford to pay their balances. There are schools all over the country worse off than this one. He did not pay the balances of starving children.

    February 6, 2014 at 10:06 pm | Reply
    • Carlo Montgomery

      What he did do was pay the balance for kids who had been publicly humiliated by the school. The problem that the school had was not with the children, it was with the parents. The school should have taken up this problem with the parents.

      February 7, 2014 at 11:23 am | Reply
      • Reader

        The facts in the case are not accurate. These children were NOT given cheese sandwiches. They had balances, yes...but they were not eating the cheese sandwich. this article makes it as if they were being humiliated. they were not. this school has only give out about 3 cheese sandwiches meals all year.

        February 8, 2014 at 2:22 pm | Reply
  8. Christine

    I agree, this is a band aid solution. I would hope that the parents who did not pay for their kids to have lunch feel some sense of shame that somebody else had to step forward and do what they would not do. I agree, also, that for many people, they always expect somebody else will bail them out, and they never, ever learn.

    However, these are kids. And they are hungry. And they need to eat. When parents fail to provide the necessities of life, as a society, I think we do need to step in. These kids have no choice. They can't take care of themselves yet. Education just might give them the tools they need to get ahead in life. And perhaps, they will remember that somebody helped them and give back to their community. We can hope so, at any rate.

    We need less government programs, and more individuals willing to help. I think that while this is just one man doing one small (if you can call $465 small) thing, a group of people doing acts that benefit society can beat a government program any day.

    Also, I think that it was stupid to throw food away that had already been served. It couldn't be given to somebody else, so where is the sense in wasting it? Why not stand at the other end of the line and prevent it from being served? A waste of school funds if I've ever seen one.

    February 6, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Reply
  9. cruzkit

    This man is not a hero... This man is a Band-Aid. He did not solve the problem of children coming to school without any lunch money. What this causes in dependency. Someone or something with solve my problems. The government will pay for my food (food stamps/WIC) my bills (unemployment check) and my shelter (section 8). Some stranger will come and pay for my child's lunch (Kenny Thompson). I understand that this man had good intentions, but dependency intention is a path that often leads to more dependency.

    February 6, 2014 at 3:58 pm | Reply
    • Claire

      If a child is starving, s/he is NOT going to have a successful day at school! They're not going to think about learning or grades if they're hungry! By making sure these kids could eat, he is giving these students a little less to worry about so that they could focus more in school. He actually is helping to solve the problem because most of those hungry kids will be more successful than they were prior to having a guaranteed lunch!! (and a positive change in even a few is better than nothing.)

      February 6, 2014 at 6:20 pm | Reply
      • Terry

        Starving, quit being so dramatic, no kid is starving.

        February 6, 2014 at 7:37 pm | Reply
      • rainbow

        Get real. Wouldn't call missing one lunch "starving". Bet a lot of these kids wouldn't really miss not having one meal. Time for the parents and the kids to start learning personal responsibility. Time for parents to remember their kids' school lunches and time for the kids to learn to speak up and say "hey mom and dad, I didn't have any lunch today because you forgot." Besides, by the time the kids are in the fourth or fifth grade, they are big and old enough to make their own sack lunches. If mommy and daddy can't remember to manage the kids' lunch accounts, then at least they can buy some PB&J, bread and snacks for the kids to make their own lunches everyday.

        February 8, 2014 at 7:41 pm | Reply
    • MikeR

      He did something and you did nothing. So just hush.

      February 6, 2014 at 7:06 pm | Reply
    • Carlo Montgomery

      That man was a hero and that was a wonderful act of kindness. Hopefully, the school will do what it should have done in the first place and deal with the parents. The parents are the problem and not the children. if the parents are having financial problems they should let the school know that so that they can deal with that problem accordingly.

      February 7, 2014 at 11:26 am | Reply
  10. ssprince1

    Many schools have PTO's who raise money. I think the money should first go to basic needs such as food, water, then school supplies.

    February 6, 2014 at 2:39 pm | Reply
  11. Furball

    That's very nice of this guy, but it's not sustainable. Is he going to clear out the balances every month? What message does that send to the parents "screw it, i just got someone to subsidize my kid, i'm off the hook"...will next month more parents not pay?

    Again, very nice, but it won't solve the problem.
    This is also the reason why restaurants (e.g., fast food places) throw out their food at night instead of giving it away. 1) You will get a line of homeless, and 2) you will get people who will wait until closing time to get free food, instead of buying food.

    February 6, 2014 at 1:12 pm | Reply
    • SpazBall

      many food establishments now send their leftover and older items to homeless shelters and food banks. There is still good in the world. Throwing out perfectly good food when our own people are starving on the streets is wasteful and ignorant.

      February 6, 2014 at 1:35 pm | Reply
      • johnharry

        your people.

        February 6, 2014 at 2:19 pm | Reply
      • Carlo Montgomery

        Totally agree! To give that food to the children and then take it back and throw it out is disgusting.

        The problem is with the parents. Have you noticed there is very little discussion about the parents in the media? Where are these children's parents? What are they doing about this problem. And, ti's not the PTAs problem either, ti's the parents.

        February 7, 2014 at 11:28 am | Reply
    • FEDUP

      This was very commendable but as already mentioned not sustainable. At an average of $1.50 per lunch, that amounts to 310 lunches. That's a lot of unpaid lunches. If parents can't afford the cost of the lunch, then they should pack a lunch. I do not believe all of these delinquent accounts are a result of parents with true financial issues. Some people need lessons in money management and learning that paying for necessities takes priority over luxuries. I've known several families where money is tight and they pack lunches to stretch their dollar. And some of these families may have been eligible for reduced lunches. Until I see proof that these deliquent account holders are truly in need, I have to support the schools. This money could be used for programs, books, additional teachers, etc.

      February 6, 2014 at 4:05 pm | Reply
      • rainbow

        Well said!!

        February 8, 2014 at 7:43 pm | Reply
  12. abbydelabbey

    Bravo! When I was working at a public school in a poor neighborhood the principal made it a policy that no child would go without breakfast or lunch whether the child had money or not. It was not a fiscal response but a moral one.

    February 6, 2014 at 1:07 pm | Reply
    • ssprince1

      I agree, in most schools, the PTO would cover whoever wasn't eating.

      February 6, 2014 at 2:38 pm | Reply
    • Terry

      Gheytto fat mom and no ebt? Hah! Keep enabling the parasites.

      February 6, 2014 at 7:39 pm | Reply
  13. TiredOfPaying

    I programmed the software for these school lunches. There are 3 levels of paying: Free, Reduced and normal. If you currently get another form of assistance, like SNAP, then your kids get Free lunches. Reduced is for a those within a certain percentage of the Poverty Level, usually 150%. Reduced lunches have a small charge per lunch, the 30 Cents mentioned. Normal pays the full price for the lunch, 2-3 dollars usually.

    Each school sets a variable for how 'negative' an account balance can get before food is refused. Usually about $10.00, but set per school. What does all this mean? That the truly poor are NOT the ones being refused food! If you are Free, then you are never charged. If you are Reduced, then you would have to be *33 LUNCHES* behind in paying to get cut off (assuming $10.00 overdraft allowed.)

    The ones being cut off are well above the poverty level. They will have received *MANY* warnings, as they will be told by the Cashier that they have a negative balance for several days at least. Most importantly, they could be overdrafted because they took additional items. So the rich kid who ignores his balance and runs out of money because he's buying an extra sandwich and coke each lunch is the most likely one to be cut off. AND THEY SHOULD BE!

    If you pay off all the negative balances without looking at the actual issue, then you are not a 'CNN Hero' or even a Good Samaritan – you're simply a fool who is giving your hard-earned money to those who CHOOSE not to pay their bills.

    February 6, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Reply
    • Ally

      That's some enlightening information. If the majority of the kids with negative balances were families that were on average middle class then I would think there's a communication problem in the system. The way you explained the process, the child is told at the end of the food line that the balance is negative. But how many of these kids will bother to tell their parents about it?

      Can there be a system set up to auto email directly to the parents when the account hits zero? I think we've gone beyond the technology of sending notes home to parents via the kids. Yes?

      February 28, 2014 at 4:08 pm | Reply
  14. Vozderazon

    What lunch costs $0.40 per day? I just paid $12 for a salad...

    February 5, 2014 at 5:55 pm | Reply
    • AleeD®

      Way to miss the boat jackwhole. The cost to the establishment is always less than the cost you pay. Do you honestly believe your $12 lunch actually cost $12 to the place where you bought it? I'm going to chalk this up to a guess: you've never actually given this any thought.

      February 6, 2014 at 7:09 am | Reply
      • SneezyMussle

        Chill he/she was just making a joke. "$12 for a salad..." the '...' should have told you it was a joke

        February 6, 2014 at 8:00 pm | Reply
  15. kacey west

    A coach at my kid's school found out that a child did not have food during a time school was out. This child only ate when in school. The coach put together a drive for the next break to create boxes of food for those families. The volunteer efforts have spread throughout the school - kids don't want their classmates going without.

    February 5, 2014 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  16. Skipper Sam

    why bother providing free school free bus transport to school free books free supplies and not provide free lunch ?

    All lunches and breakfast btw too should be free

    Let the PTA have a fund raiser for the cafeteria

    Meals at school are some of the only meals some of these kids get.

    February 5, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Reply
    • rainbow

      With that line of reasoning, why not just build dorms next to the schools, house all the students on campus and remove all responsibility from the parents.

      February 8, 2014 at 7:46 pm | Reply
  17. Terry

    Way to reward scamming, deliberately slacking parents.

    February 5, 2014 at 5:14 pm | Reply
    • jimbo913

      So the kids should be punished?

      February 5, 2014 at 5:19 pm | Reply
    • Wm.Russ Martin

      Way to be a useless and uncaring human being.

      February 5, 2014 at 5:41 pm | Reply
    • theotherbob56

      And what do you base this judgement on? Bet you cheered when SNAP was cut in the farm bill, too.

      February 5, 2014 at 6:00 pm | Reply
    • jrsouthgate

      No child should be forced to go hungry.

      February 6, 2014 at 12:22 pm | Reply
      • rainbow

        Tell that to the slacker parents who forget to either keep the child's account up to date or send sack lunches in everyday

        February 8, 2014 at 7:48 pm | Reply
    • bill

      Channeling your inner Jesus I see.

      February 6, 2014 at 5:44 pm | Reply
    • Claire

      It's not like he could find each parent/guardian and re-educate them or offer them better jobs…

      CHILDREN ARE OUR FUTURE, and we should invest in them and their education. He does this by mentoring kids and making sure they can eat, and it's better than nothing.

      February 6, 2014 at 6:27 pm | Reply
    • Carlo Montgomery

      No, the parents should be addressed and this mess corrected. Where are they in this discussion?

      February 7, 2014 at 11:30 am | Reply
  18. kantrudantor

    We may have just met a contender for CNN hero of 2014. Maybe even the winner.

    February 5, 2014 at 5:06 pm | Reply
    • Jeremy

      Iknowright? $465 to help poor kids eat is nothing to the gainfully employed. Let's privatize lunches for needy children in public schools. How hard can it be?

      February 6, 2014 at 7:00 am | Reply
  19. t3chn0ph0b3

    Charity is nice, but it's usually just a Band-Aid on a broken leg. Unless you advocate the creation of a society that can and will fix the broken leg, all you're doing with charity is helping that leg stay a little less broken for a short period of time.

    February 5, 2014 at 5:03 pm | Reply
    • sp

      Your response is almost identical to the ones from some people I have seen in my life. The common thing among these people was they were too selfish to help out the less fortunate but still wanted to pretend that they were doing the right thing.

      February 5, 2014 at 5:34 pm | Reply
    • steve

      A starving kid doesn't care about anything other than eating. Food is a basic human NEED. How can you be so cold to deny a starving child food? I hope karma comes and bites you in the ass.

      February 6, 2014 at 10:05 am | Reply
    • Jan

      While you start your comment with "charity is nice," the rest of your comment appears to negate that beginning. I see truth in your recognition that charity is "just a Band-aid" and that working on the underlying problems is needed, but even a momentary, small help is a good thing. Life is not only the big picture and end goals; it is also the moment-to-moment experience of living. A moment of kindness doesn't fix the big picture, but it has value.

      February 6, 2014 at 11:50 am | Reply
  20. Truth™

    NICE!
    Just when you think there is absolutely no good left in this world...

    February 5, 2014 at 4:57 pm | Reply
  21. drowlord

    I used to live walking distance from that school. My parents owned two homes in that area for years. We only ever lived in one of them, and only for a few months, but I remember it being a nice area that got a lot worse over time.

    February 5, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Reply
  22. NFODarksyd

    Way to go sir.. you are a fine example for those kids. Thank you!

    February 5, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  23. FoolKiller

    "KPRC reports that on Monday, the longtime mentor and tutor paid off the negative lunch account balances of more than 60 students."

    As the article states, the original event occurred LAST week.

    And the parents (who said they would have paid if they had known) STILL hadn't paid this week???

    February 5, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Reply
    • Orolandes

      Different School. I know you tea tards have issues with reading comprehension but try to keep up.

      February 5, 2014 at 4:38 pm | Reply
      • Kathyx228

        Oh man, thanks for the "chuckle" too funny

        February 5, 2014 at 4:43 pm | Reply
    • Kat Kinsman

      It's also entirely possible that even if we had been talking about the same school, the parents didn't have enough money. Not even 40 cents a day. Pocket change to a lot of us, but the difference between lunch and going hungry all day to many.

      February 5, 2014 at 4:50 pm | Reply
  24. Harry

    Yeah maybe there are a few kids who's parents are trying to work the system but for the majority, I would think the parents legitimately can't afford to pay. Meanwhile corporations like ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron and Shell (just one industry) get millions if not billions in subsidies from the Federal government even though they make insane profits. These companies pay lobbyists big money to lobby Congress to make sure they continue to get this corporate welfare while children in school get their lunches snatched away from them. Isn't America a great place?

    February 5, 2014 at 4:24 pm | Reply
    • RJ

      Let's not forget the banks. Anyone remember 5% interest on savings accounts? Rather than pay depositors for the privilege of using our money for their business interests, they'd rather screw us an pad their own accounts even more.

      And then there are the professional sports people. Seriously. I'd love to get paid 5 million a year for a few months work.

      February 6, 2014 at 12:36 pm | Reply
      • Mike

        Sports people are paid employees, even if their salaries are sky high. Very different from a bank or financial institution.

        February 6, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Reply
  25. accidentalhero

    What an excellent example of how we all can help! Now can we all do this ??

    February 5, 2014 at 4:23 pm | Reply
    • Ethan

      20% of my paycheck isn't enough?

      February 5, 2014 at 4:58 pm | Reply
      • Terry

        No, they will continually demand more and more until no more productive people are left.

        February 5, 2014 at 5:15 pm | Reply
        • Wm.Russ Martin

          There are plenty of countries you can move to if you don't like it here..

          February 5, 2014 at 5:44 pm |
        • theotherbob56

          Yeah, we'll even help you pack. Maybe you could go to Costa Rica with Rush Limbaugh.

          February 5, 2014 at 6:03 pm |
      • Amy

        I pay well more than 20% of my paycheck in various taxes and you know what? I still donate money to charity, donate food to local food banks, and volunteer my time at causes that speak to me. It doesn't have to be an either/or situation.

        February 6, 2014 at 2:15 pm | Reply
    • Claire

      Look up local outreach programs! Boys and Girls Clubs, town rec. centers, and churches are a few great places to start. You can find all sorts of ways to help feed kids or even just help them with homework. :-)

      February 6, 2014 at 6:30 pm | Reply

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