An Offering to Eliminate School Meal Debt

An Offering to Eliminate School Meal Debt

December 23, 2019

This year, the Collegiate United Methodist Church and Wesley Foundation are hoping to give hundreds of families in Ames a very special Christmas present with its Advent-Christmas offerings. “Our goal is to send every child within the Ames Community School District back to school after Christmas break without any meal debt,” says Jodi Smith-Risdal, Chair of the church’s Sending to Serve cluster. “When we started this campaign, that was right around $47,000, so this is a pretty big ask. It’s impacting close to 600 families in the district.”

Taking on food insecurity

Collegiate Wesley’s main mission areas have been homelessness, food insecurity, and youth and children's missions, so this endeavor fits right in. Rev. Jen Hibben, Associate Pastor for Collegiate UMC and Campus Pastor for the Wesley Center, saw evidence of that right away when she mentioned the initiative in a sermon and people started clap. “When people catch the vision of what this does for our community, for kids, for the educational system, it’s something they want to be a part of,” she says. “It was really well received.”

Click here to listen to the conversation about Eliminating Ames School Meal Debt

In addition to the positive energy coming from the congregation, they got a very tangible sign of support early on. “We have been extra blessed in that we have a group of anonymous donors from Collegiate who came together and committed to giving $15,000 as a match,” reports Rev. Hibben. “So even from the first week that we were really starting to raise funds for this, we already had people who were willing to put that amount of money into what we were doing.”

Getting the community involved

What’s more, a lot of support is coming beyond Collegiate Wesley. “I think that’s been the most exciting part for me, having friends who have zero church affiliation anywhere, or who don’t have faith at all, that they’re donating online to our campaign—because that’s important to them,” asserts Lauren Loonsfoot, Director of Children, Youth and Family Ministries for Collegiate UMC and Associate Campus Minister for the Wesley Center.

“This is something that’s not a religious-specific issue, but people can get behind this no matter what their beliefs or backgrounds are because they want children to be able to learn and not have to worry about meal debt.”

Local college students take initiative

Iowa State students have gotten involved as well. Loonsfoot says, “When we first talked to our college students about it, we had people sharing personal experiences that they had when they were in high school or younger, about times when their family couldn’t afford lunch.” So they have raised several hundreds of dollars through activities like holding a bake sale and hosting a table at the Memorial Union to take up donations from students and faculty.

“They are passionate about it,” Loonsfoot explains, “and they don’t want children to have to worry about eating lunch or being lunch shamed like they have been before. They’ve really gotten behind this initiative and have been excited and sharing it on their social media.”  

The social justice perspective

“We recognize that this holiday season, we have the opportunity to do this sort of big act of grace,” says Rev. Hibben, “But it also helps us raise awareness so that we can address the justice issues. We know that there’s more work to be done and to further address the issue of why do we have families going into debt for school lunches? Why is there food insecurity in Ames?”

Smith-Risdall adds, “This, to me, is sort of a first step. We know there are issues, and so we are going to talk next about how we can help address the underlying problems. And hopefully, we can partner with folks outside of here to do good things to help solve these problems moving forward.”

Amanda Winters, Sending to Serve at Large Member and Assistant in Children, Youth and Family Ministries, points out, “All of us have children in the Ames Community School District, so we’re all connected to this. We actually have kids who go to these schools who are friends with these children, so we’re connected in an intimate way already with this. But I’m just excited that our church is doing this, putting ourselves out there that this is something we care about.”

How you can help

Although the group had a lot of discussion around whether or not it was too much to try to raise the full amount, they are excited about their progress so far and optimistic that they will be able to wipe out the full $47,000 in school lunch debt. But they do need help.

To donate, visit, click on the word Give along the top row, and look for Ames School Meal Pay Off Advent Offering, which is the first item in the Missions section. Then enter the amount you’d like to contribute. Checks can be mailed to Collegiate United Methodist Church at 2622 Lincoln Way, Ames, Iowa, 50014. Please make your contribution by December 31 at 5 pm.

And please share on social media to get the word out! 

“I’m already getting goosebumps because it’s just that exciting feeling that we’re doing this,” says Rev. Hibben. “This is what being part of a church is about. This is what being part of community is about.”