The generosity of a local man is helping students at Franklin schools have a hot meal and giving their parents one less bill to worry about this season.

Jim Drake, a former deputy with the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, had heard about students in local schools whose parents couldn’t afford to pay for school lunches, and knew he wanted to do something to help.

“I know it’s going on, and I was in a Christmas spirit,” he said.

So, he walked into the Franklin schools administration office and pulled out his checkbook. The school district had about 300 students with negative balances that would take more than $1,200 to pay off. Drake wrote the check, saying he wasn’t sure what the amount was going to be and suspected it would be high, but was glad it wasn’t more than what it was.

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The donation is enough to cover up to three meals for more than 300 students, Franklin Food Services Director Jill Overton said.

With a long white beard, Overton said that Drake looked liked he might have been Santa Claus when he came to write the check.

“It was a huge Christmas present,” she said.

Franklin schools, like others in Johnson County and across the country, require students to pay for their lunches unless their families’ incomes are low enough to be eligible for a free or reduced-price meal. Students whose accounts reach a certain negative balance no longer get the hot meals given to the rest of their classmates. Instead, they are given other meals, such as peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or cheese sandwiches, along with milk and sometimes fruits or vegetables, meant for children whose lunch accounts are unpaid.

At Franklin schools, the policy is that students are allowed to charge three meals, or up to $7.50, to their account when it runs out of money. After that, if a parent hasn’t added money to the lunch account, students will be fed an alternative meal, she said. When school officials run into a situation of a child whose parents are consistently not paying for lunches, they can reach out to the family to see if they would qualify to either receive a free lunch or one at a reduced price, Overton said.

National School Lunch Program guidelines give schools a range of options for dealing with parents who don’t pay for the lunches, one of which is to charge a limited number of meals to students, but then offer an alternative meal for free if families do not repay the negative balance.

Getting donations to help pay off those balances, ensuring students get a hot meal, is not uncommon, Franklin and Greenwood school officials said.

At the end of the last school year, Greenwood schools used about $1,250 in donations to pay off the remaining unpaid amounts for all students, so they could at least start the current school year with a zero balance, Greenwood Food Services Director Cheryl Hargis said.

“We have a fund set up, and we have really good people who will step in and help out,” she said.

By the numbers

The price students pay to eat lunch varies by age and what school they attend. Here’s a look at prices across at several school districts in Johnson County:

School district;Elementary price; Middle and high school price

Center Grove;$2.30;$2.50

Clark Pleasant; $2.45;$2.55

Franklin;$2.60;$2.70

Greenwood;$2.25;$2.45

At a glance

Interested in making a donation to help student’s pay for their meals? Here’s how you can get in contact with food services directors at several local schools:

Franklin: 317-346-8720

Clark-Pleasant: 317-535-7579 ext. 1609

Center Grove: 317-881-9326 ext. 1609

Greenwood: 317-859-6033

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Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.