Sandy's Restaurant owner Erika Lucas has done several fundraisers before that benefit people in Blue Springs and beyond.
For her fourth annual Blue Stripe Project, a portion of restaurant sales will help children in a different way.
Through Nov. 23, 10 percent of all sales at Sandy's will go toward paying off student lunch debt for Blue Springs District students, which the district reports was at $99,000 after the last school year. Some proceeds will also help a local church with a weekend Meals on Wheels program.
Lucas credited a high school friend, Shelly Alumbaugh, for the inspiration.
“She had a Facebook post on a similar fundraiser in another district,” Lucas said. “I thought, 'This is perfect.'”
Lucas set a $15,000 goal, which she thought would make a significant dent, as there had to be hundreds of students who accumulate some kind of lunch debt.
“But it's kind of only a drop in the bucket,” she said.
Out of 14,848 students, the Blue Springs District reported that 25 percent applied and qualified for free or reduced-price lunches – 2,786 free and 986 reduced. Even so, the district had nearly $100,000 in student lunch debt at the end of May.
“The district feeds students no matter what,” Lucas said, countering what she says can be a common misconception with some schools.
District spokesperson Katie Woolf said the district usually is able to collect about half the lunch debt during enrollment for the following school year.
“But we are never able to collect it all,” she said, “and then that number starts climbing again throughout the school year.”
At the elementary level, 28 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunches, and at the middle school it's 26 percent, with similar free and reduced ratios. In the two high schools, 20 percent of students qualify – 694 free and 239 reduced. But, as evidenced by the debt figure, the district knows it doesn't reach all families who would qualify.
“There are a variety of reasons for this, including some parents not wanting to fill out the application,” Woolf said.
That application is available both online and in hard copy.
Woolf said the district will report back to Sandy's on the number of students and families were helped from its donation.
“It's a nationwide problem, across the board,” Lucas said of the reasons that lead to student lunch debt. “Studies have shown that children with food inconsistency do not learn as well.”
“If we can just help a few families and alleviate that worry, it's worth it. Hopefully this can bring some light to this (issue).”
Lucas emphasized that the fundraisers are about propping up the community and not her restaurant. Several area businesses and organizations – Salon Bellezzio, Modified Ways, Premium Realty Group, Woods Chapel Church, Kennedy Jewelers and Anthem Photography – are sponsoring this fundraiser.
“It's great to have as much investment in the community as possible, to help people,” she said. “It's never to be prideful or boastful about Sandy's; it's how can we help the community.”