DENVER -- Nearly 4,000 students in Denver will head back to class at the end of the month with a lighter load: They won't be carrying school lunch debt.
The KidsGiving365 organization answered the call to join the effort to pay off the nearly $14,000 in hot lunch debt owed to Denver Public Schools by parents who earn a little too much to qualify for federal assistance but still can't afford a daily lunch for their kids.
Jack Mandeville, 10, was the first to donate to the campaign.
“My saying is somebody’s heart can change somebody's life," he said.
KidsGiving365 has run several campaigns to help kids in need, collecting 200 pairs of shoes, boxes of school supplies and toys during the holidays. It said taking on school lunch debt only made sense.
“I just like the smile on their face, it brings me joy," Mandeville said.
Many school districts provide alternate meals such as cheese sandwiches to kids with parents can't pay for a hot lunch.
"It is one thing for a mom to be embarrassed about not being able to pay bills, but for a child to go to school and then pick up a lunch that clearly identifies them as being poor (is terrible)," said Jack’s mom and Kidsgiving365 organizer Deborah Sherman.
Yasin, 10, goes to school in Denver. He said he has defended students who have been bullied because they have the tell-tale meals.
“I was like, do not make fun of the other person just because they do not get a good lunch like you do," Yasin said.
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg said it’s time for that to end.
“We’re committed that at the end of the day we're going to feed every kid every day. Any kid who wants lunch will get a hot lunch and we'll find a way to do it," Boasberg said.
In order for that to happen, every child in need who qualifies must be signed up for federal assistance. Boasberg emphasizes that children should not be placed in the middle of financial issues.
DPS offered sincere thanks to the children at KidsGiving365 for their efforts. Sherman said she and the other parents involved in KidsGiving365 are immensely proud of their children for showing such compassion for others.
“We just want to him to know that there's more to life than this little bubble we live in," Sherman said.
On Tuesday, the Cattivella Wood Fired Italian restaurant will donate 10 percent of all sales toward paying off the debt.
Usage fees from the GoFundMe page must be paid before KidsGiving365 can provide payment to DPS for the debt.