PFLUGERVILLE, Texas — This past school year, Pflugerville ISD (PfISD) had an unprecedented lunch debt total of roughly $180,000.
"I didn't expect it to be that large," said John Amador, president of Pfood Fairness. "It was definitely a shock."
The incoming junior and his brother decided to create a nonprofit to address the issue.
"It's an effort to help pay off student lunch," John Amador said.
He said with the help of his mom, he and his brother, Maxx, founded the nonprofit Pfood Fairness. Through multiple outreach events and social media posts, the two boys have raise over $17,000 to go toward the district's lunch debt.
This comes after seeing their classmates go through the lunch line only to have their food tray thrown away.
"We have had friends and classmates that have gone through the line, attempted to pay for the standard meal. Then they put in their code to pay for it and then, if they have a negative balance, the staff will take it away," John Amador said. "They'll take it away and give them an alternative lunch."
He said it was humiliating for some students because their peers knew they couldn't afford their lunch.
"Basically, blasting all their personal business to everyone in the lunchroom," he said.
The brothers said a meal goes to waste.
"The alternative lunch ... it's a piece of bread. Three slices of American cheese and another cold piece of bread," Maxx Amador said. "They throw away the hot meal, a perfectly hot meal. They waste it to give them that."
Maxx Amador said he's seen students upset their meal was getting replaced with a cheese sandwich. But the district said switching out the entrée is one way to bring costs down.
"Even switching on an entrée, there's still a cost to the student," said Tamra Spencer, PfISD's chief communications officer. "It's just a decreased cost for that lunch."
Spencer said the district will never turn a student away for lunch. They will always provide an entrée, sides and a drink. While some students might not like the cheese sandwich, Spencer said it is available to all students.
"The cheese sandwich is actually an option for kids to get on their own," she said. "It's not something that is only given to students as an alternate. It's just our lowest cost entrée. So, that's what it is. It's not something that is only given to students who aren't paying their lunch."
So far, John and Maxx Amador have raised $17,000. They still don't know when they'll give the district their first check, but they're happy with everything they've raised this summer.
By federal law, as of July 1, the district had to pay off the remaining $110,000 lunch balance. All students will start the year at $0 owed. However, the district said they are still trying to recover funds from parents who did not pay their balances last year. Some parents have received collection notices for small amounts, as little as a few cents or $1.
Spencer said if the Amador brothers move forward with the donation, their money will go towards reimbursing PfISD for the lunch balance they paid off. Anything the brothers raise in the future will go towards the new lunch debt the district will accrue after the end of this upcoming school year.
Spencer said in previous years, the lunch debt has been around $16,000. This past school year, because everyone was coming out of the pandemic, the district thought it would reach, at most, a $30,000 debt. The $180,000 students owed toward the end of the school year was unprecedented.
If parents need help, free and reduced lunch applications are open.
"If there are families out there and they're unable to make those payments, we encourage them to reach out to us," Spencer said. "We have a lot of resources to help them either with that application or with other resources because we want every student to be able to go through the lunch line and get whatever entrée they want and not the lowest cost option."