Before Christmas last year, the Rev. Patrick Broz was asked by his wife, the Rev. Abby Caseman, what he wanted for a present.
“I don’t need anything — which is what she got me,” recalled Broz, pastor of Colby United Methodist Church. “So, I said what I’d like to be able to do is pay off all the debt of the food balances so kids can get a hot meal, versus a cheese sandwich. If you don’t have enough money, you get a cheese sandwich, and everybody knows what’s going on. There’s a stigma attached to that.”
Guessing the total to be between $300 and $400, Broz was surprised to find it was about four times that amount.
Through a Facebook post, he called for support from his western Kansas congregation to help with the payment.
“It was something we couldn’t do ourselves, but it gave us the opportunity to educate our church community about the need and what’s really going on,” Broz said. “That’s hidden — it’s not something that’s going to be in a headline.”
Colby UMC not only erased the $1,600 lunch debt, it raised a total of $2,300. Contributions came from as far away as Arkansas. When Broz asked the Arkansas contributor why she didn’t donate money to her own community, she replied, “They never asked.”
Broz shared his success with two other pastors in his Hays 2 network — Gordon Pettibone from Oberlin and Jake Schadel from Hoxie-Selden — and inspired them to take on similar projects with their congregations.
In Oberlin, a soup supper raised $500, and a designated Christmas Eve offering drew $961, wiping out the meal debt.
The Selden church raised $735 and Hoxie raised $785.
In every case, excess money raised goes toward future debts.
“The kids don’t just get back to zero, but they get above ground,” Broz said. “It’s not just treading ground, but a leap forward.”
All three of the pastors said their congregations were uncertain their contributions would make a difference.
“Both of my congregations saw it as a daunting thing to get to that amount,” Schadel said. “I think it gave them a lot of confidence. I’d like to see another opportunity like that again.”
“It had never happened before,” Pettibone said. “First-time things are a little scary.”
The Decatur County school board, Pettibone said, was unaware of the benefactor, although the superintendent knew.
“They just know there was a gift with no strings attached,” he said.
All three pastors said they and their churches want to continue to raise money to erase the lunch debt in their schools.
Broz said he got a bit of resistance among the community in Colby, mainly from people unaware that so many students had so much lunch debt.
“It exposed kind of an underbelly of the community that they don’t like to talk about,” he said. “Things aren’t always a Norman Rockwell painting.”
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