DENVER -- FOX31 and the KidsGiving365 organization have been working to erase the school lunch debt for nearly 4,000 students in Denver Public Schools.
When parents can't afford to pay their lunch debt, the kids receive a cold sandwich and a snack. Many students are embarrassed, and some are even teased and bullied.
Denver Public Schools said it will eliminate the alternate meal policy and provide hot lunches for every student while payment issues are unresolved with the parents.
A GoFundMe page has been set up to help pay off the debt.
The KidsGiving365 project will also sponsor a back-to-school event to collect school supplies for kids in need at noon Saturday noon at the South Lowell Community Center (4725 S. Lowell Blvd.).
The idea is to inspire businesses and other groups along the Front Range to start campaigns to raise funds to pay off school lunch debt.
While many school districts provide an alternative lunch to those with debt from the year before such as a cheese sandwich or snack, some children are ashamed to take the tell-tale meals.
They fear being bullied because their parents can't afford to pay for a hot lunch.
Eight-year-old KidsGiving365 member Lillie Sheppard said that breaks her heart and she wants to help.
“Being teased because you don't have money doesn't seem like the right thing to do so you should always be kind," she said. "If you have money left over, you should give some to them so they feel better about their lunch.”
Added Lillie’s mother, Tracie: “The most basic need is our ability to feed our kids, and as a mom if you can't do that, I can't imagine what it would be like.”
Lillie is also working on other projects. She’s been working to collect shoes for kids who come from families that can’t afford the basics, as well as putting together snack and amenity bags for the homeless.
Jack Mandeville, 10, got a chance to deliver gifts to a child in need during the holidays.
“He started crying and I did too because it was such a good memory and I knew that I should do this every year, someone's heart can change someone's life," Mandeville said.
KidsGiving365 also sponsors an awards program to show recognition for children who help others.
To nominate a child for the first Junior Philanthropist Award, email a summary of his or her achievements along with a photo.
The award will be presented during a gala in the fall.