Austin 14-year-old wants to pay off all $19K of AISD’s lunch debt

14-year-old starts GoFundMe

AUSTIN (KXAN) — An Austin eighth-grader is determined to pay off all $19,000 worth of Austin Independent School District’s school lunch debt.

It all started with a school project Ben Hofer was assigned at his school, St. Andrews Episcopal. It’s a project called Project Citizen, where each student picks a local or national project and then presents it to the whole grade. While he was looking for the perfect one, he stumbled upon school lunch debt.

“I didn’t know that was an issue because I go to a private school and I don’t have to worry about that stuff but I guess I didn’t realize public school students had to pay every day a certain amount of money to get lunch,” said Hofer. His lunch is paid for through tuition.

So he went right to work.

He created a GoFundMe in January with the goal of paying off the school lunch debt at three schools in the Austin Independent School District: Akins High School, Paredes Middle School and Blazier Elementary. 

He chose those schools because an AISD representative told him that these schools had the highest amount of debt for elementary, middle and high school.

At last report, AISD as a whole had about $19,000 in school lunch debt.

“We realized raising money would be a big way we could help,” Hofer said, but now that he’s almost reached his $3,000 goal, he has bigger goals than what he first set out to accomplish.

“If it keeps going like this, and this gets publicized enough, we could reach the $19,000 goal and it will pay off everybody in the entire district,” he said. 

“I think it’s a great awareness campaign for providing meals to all of our students,” said Patricia Fraga, a spokeswoman for AISD. “I think it just brings awareness to the fact that some need help in getting their lunches.”

There are about 43 schools in the district that currently serve lunch free to all students through a federal grant, but that number will grow to 83 next school year. Akins High School, Paredes Middle School and Blazier Elementary — the schools Hofer is raising money for — are among those that will start serving free lunch to students in the 2019-20 school year.

Right now, if a student cannot afford to buy lunch, they are charged up to three meals. If after that the student still can’t pay, the district takes on the fee and starts paying for the student, which the district budgets for every year. 

If families need help with paying for lunch, the district will work with the campus parent support specialist to help parents fill out a meal benefit application. AISD also has a giving tree that allows people to donate money to pay off school lunch debt, and they hope the money Hofer raises will go toward this as well. 

On May 14, he will show off his project at his school’s Civics Fair, which will include all of his other grade’s projects. It is open to the public, and it is scheduled to be at 2:15 p.m. at St. Andrews Middle School.

AISD schools that currently serve free lunch to all students:

  • Means Young Womens Leadership Academy
  • Uphaus ECC
  • Webb Primary
  • Dobie Pre K
  • Allison Elementary School
  • Andrews Elementary School
  • Barrington Elementary School
  • Brooke Elementary School
  • Brown Elementary School
  • Campbell Elementary School
  • Cook Elementary School
  • Galindo Elementary School
  • Govalle Elementary School
  • Guerrero Elementary School
  • Harris Elementary School
  • Hart Elementary School
  • Houston Elementary School
  • Jordan Elementary School
  • Langford Elementary School
  • Linder Elementary School
  • McBee Elementary School
  • Metz Elementary School
  • Norman Elementary School
  • Oak Springs Elementary School
  • Ortega Elementary School
  • Overton Elementary School
  • Padron Elementary School
  • Pecan Springs Elementary School
  • Perez Elementary School
  • Pickle Elementary School
  • Pleasant Hill Elementary School
  • Rodriguez Elementary School
  • Sanchez Elementary School
  • Sims Elementary School
  • Walnut Creek Elementary School
  • Widen Elementary School
  • Winn Elementary School
  • Wooldridge Elementary School
  • Wooten Elementary School
  • Zavala Elementary School
  • Martin Middle School
  • Mendez Middle School
  • Webb Middle School

AISD schools that will start serving free lunch to all students for the 2019-20 school year:

  • Alternative Learning Center
  • Rosedale School
  • Akins High School
  • Crockett High School
  • Eastside Memorial High School
  • International High School
  • Lanier High School
  • GPA at Lanier
  • Reagan High School
  • LBJ High School
  • Travis High School
  • GPA at Travis
  • Bedichek Middle School
  • Burnet Middle School
  • Covington Middle School
  • Dobie Middle School
  • Fulmore Middle School
  • Paredes Middle School
  • Garcia Young Men’s Leadership Academy
  • Blackshear Elementary School
  • Blanton Elementary School
  • Blazier Elementary School
  • Boone Elementary School
  • Casey Elementary School
  • Cunningham Elementary School
  • Dawson Elementary School
  • Graham Elementary School
  • Joslin Elementary School
  • Kocurek Elementary School
  • Menchaca Elementary School
  • Odom Elementary School
  • Palm Elementary School
  • Pillow Elementary School
  • Reilly Elementary School
  • St Elmo Elementary School
  • Sunset Valley Elementary School
  • Travis Heights Elementary School
  • Williams Elementary School

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