Kingston kids’ lunchroom debts paid in full

Draper gets a round of applause at the March 8 school board meeting.

A community fundraising effort spearheaded by Kingston resident Jill Draper reached its goal last week, with the remaining $3,500 of the KCSD’s $5,877 school lunch debt being donated by around 40 total donors. Draper presented the final round of checks to school officials at a meeting of the Board of Education last week.

Draper said she got the idea from Ashley C. Ford, a Brooklyn-based writer who late last year took to Twitter about things everyday people can do to help make their world a better place. “A cool thing you can do today is try to find out which of your local schools have kids with overdue lunch accounts and pay them off.” tweeted Ford on December 6, setting off a nationwide movement that also resonated with Draper.

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“For whatever reason this was one that spoke to me,” Draper said in January, after presenting the first round of checks, including her own initial pledge of $500. “It felt winnable.”

School lunch debt accrues when a child is unable to pay for their lunch. Districts like the KCSD don’t turn a child away, but unless they’re on the free lunch program, the cost of the lunch is added to their account and will follow them through the school system.

After deciding to take Ford’s suggestion local early this year, Draper first checked with the district on the debt at John F. Kennedy Elementary, her neighborhood school. When she discovered it was only around $200 she began to further widen the net to see how far she could stretch her personal donation. By then she’d already posted to her business’ Facebook page in an effort to galvanize other local small business owners.

At the March 8 school board meeting, Draper said everyone from area residents to businesses to the Ulster County Sheriff’s Office — which sent a $195 check in lieu of a birthday gift to Sheriff Paul VanBlarcum – pitched in to help.

The debt was spread across all 10 schools in the district at the time Draper kicked off the fundraising initiative, with the largest amounts at Kingston High School ($1,854) and J. Watson Bailey Middle School ($1,605). M. Clifford Miller’s debt was $700. At the elementary level, the breakdown included John F. Kennedy ($387), Chambers ($375), Edward R. Crosby ($322), George Washington ($298), Ernest C. Myer ($183), Robert Graves ($79), and Harry L. Edson ($75).

Draper, who runs a yarn design and spinning business called Jill Draper Makes Stuff, said last week that it meant a lot to see the community come together to help local school kids.

“It’s been really amazing to work on this project,” Draper said. “The community has really shown up, and I’m happy to be a part of it.”

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