Joplin Interfaith Coalition members donate $4,000 to help erase students' lunch debt

Members of the Joplin Interfaith Coalition — the Rev. Kathryn Wilson of South Joplin Christian Church (left); Paul Teverow, United Hebrew Congregation; Dan Goepfert, with the Joplin Area Baha’i community; and Sahar Elsayed, with the Islamic Society of Joplin (right), present a check of $4,000 to Rick Kenkel, director of food service for the Joplin School District (center). The money will be used to help reduce lunch debt for Joplin students. Globe | Kevin McClintock

With the sun shining for the first time in days, members of the Joplin Interfaith Coalition on Thursday donated $4,000 to the Joplin School District to ensure no Joplin student is forced to study on an empty stomach.

The money, raised from an annual soup/sandwich luncheon and bake sale held earlier this month at the Islamic Society of Joplin, will help write off Joplin students’ meal debts via the school district’s Feed Every Eagle program.

The March 7 social event allowed people of different faiths to come together, mingle, eat lunch and learn about different cultures and religions. This is the third year the coalition has joined forces to raise money for a common good. Two years ago, the money they raised through their $5 lunch tickets and sales of homemade baked goods raised more than $1,000 for hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico. Last year, a record $2,105 was raised and promptly donated to Crosslines Ministries of Joplin, which provides a crisis pantry in Joplin

“It surprises us every year how much is raised; we thought last year’s (total) was big,” said Dan Goepfert, with the Joplin Area Baha’i community.

“Last year and this year, people just came out in droves,” added the Rev. Kathryn Wilson, South Joplin Christian Church.

Standout baked items sold during the recent event included Greek-inspired baklava as well as chocolate cupcakes drenched with sea salt caramel icing.

“It’s always the good stuff,” Goepfert said, “and not the stuff that comes out of the freezer.”

Coalition members focused on Feed Every Eagle this year, said United Hebrew Congregation of Joplin’s Paul Teverow, “because we felt like there was a real need in this community … (and) a lot of kids whose families couldn’t afford to pay for their lunches.”

According to Rick Kenkel, director of food service for the district, there are 50 students, from kindergarten through 12th grade, who owe more than $20 each.

Hot lunches cost $1.85 per day for elementary students, $2 for middle school students and $2.20 for high school students. Breakfast cost 75 cents for every student. The district currently serves 5,000 lunches and 3,000 breakfast per day.

Kenkel said district officials work with parents and guardians to determine how to best help their students, but they welcome help from the community when it comes to reducing the debt.

“We have been fortunate to have church organizations give or adopt a particular school,” he said. “We’ve been very blessed in this district that we have now received over $10,000 in donations to feed every Eagle.”

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