Mom who tackled lunch debt now tackling 'lunch shaming' in Durham Public Schools

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DURHAM (WTVD) -- First, Rebekah Miel tackled lunch debt at Durham Public Schools. Now, the mother is tackling lunch shaming.

Miel, whose GoFundMe campaign raised more than $65,000 to pay off lunch debt for over 2,500 students, is holding a community meeting in Durham Saturday and hopes to address lunch shaming.

READ MORE: Durham woman raising money to erase school lunch debt

When students at Durham Public Schools haven't paid for five or more lunches, they get a cold sandwich instead of a hot meal - which Miel considers "lunch shaming."

"In middle school, other students start to recognize what that cold sandwich means so, anecdotally, I've heard that means sometimes kids just don't eat all day," Miel said.

James Keaten, School Nutrition Services Executive Director at Durham Public Schools, admits there is a stigma to eating a different meal.

But he said it's lessened because they offer the sandwiches to all students, not only those owing money.

"I really don't know how to address it when you have hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of money that's not coming in," Keaten said. "And we're still providing food. We still have to buy the food, we still have to pay the labor. We still have to buy the equipment. There has to be some way to accommodate both needs."
Keaten said the district is ultimately on the hook for the tens of thousands of dollars of unpaid lunch debt.

In fact, since Miel paid off the nearly $65,000 of the negative balance which had already crept up to more than $127,000 by February 7.

"It's going to keep happening year after year," Miel said. "School lunch debt doesn't go away. As soon as an amount is paid down it starts accruing again."

That's why Miel is organizing a community meeting in Durham.

She wants to find a long-term solution to lunch debt and discuss lunch shaming. Keaten plans to be there. And so can community members.

The community meeting is Saturday, February 24 from 10 a.m. until 12 p.m. at the Self Help Temple Room on 302 West Main Street in Durham.

More information about the meeting can be found on Facebook.
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