AUSTIN -- Thirty thousand dollars of debt, that's the amount of money Austin ISD students have accrued by not being able to pay for their school lunches.
But now, builders and developers from the Austin Infill Coalition are helping to chip away at that.
"No matter how amazing Austin ISD is, if a kid at school is hungry, they're not going to learn,” said Ed Ishmael, the Chairperson of Builders Care Austin.
According to him, more than 50 builders and developers raised $10,000 to help pay off student lunch debt for about 3,400 AISD students.
"We look at these schools at the foundations of our community, and we look at these kids as our future, so what better way to invest in our future than invest in these kids,” said Ishmael.
He said they started out by just wanting to raise enough money to cover the debt for students in the 78702 zip code.
“We build in these communities and we want to be able to give back to these communities and I can't think of a better way to give back to the community than helping out the schools in the community,” said Ishmael. "For a while, I've been thinking about how do we give back to the communities that we build in."
The goal was $1,500, but he said that quickly grew.
"Sent out the first email, and that was probably around 8:30 in the morning, 9 o'clock in the morning, and by 5 o'clock we had blown past the 1,500,” said Ismael. "There was not even any difficulty, everybody was excited about it."
Tuesday he handed over a check for $10,000.
"To have 10,000 come from one organization at one time is really impactful,” said Anneliese Tanner.
Tanner is the executive director for Nutrition and Food Service for Austin ISD, and said one in four students in the county don't know where their next meal is coming from.
"It's important to us that every child in AISD every day receives a meal no matter their ability to pay,” said Tanner. "Because we know that nutrition is vital for them to be learning and for them to be successful in life."
This year, students have accrued more than $30,000 in school lunch debt, the builders have knocked out a third of that.
According to Tanner, whatever balance is left at the end of the year comes out of food services budget. If that doesn't cover it, the money comes out of the general fund.
"So it takes away from funds that are for students education, textbooks, computers, etc.,” said Tanner.
But Tanner said the district only charges students for three meals. They pick up the tab for anything on top of that. She said this year the district has spent more than $650,000 on those courtesy meals.
"So there's the negative balance that the students carry, but there's also the balance that we're carrying in our budget to make sure that every student is fed every day,” said Tanner.
And this year, she said they have a new policy. They no longer only give sandwiches as their courtesy meal, students can eat whatever entrée is offered that day.
"We had a big increase from last year to this year,” said Tanner.
As for Ishmael and the builders, he said they won't stop fundraising.
You can donate here.