Madison librarian Raina Bloom was browsing her timeline on Twitter last week when she saw a call to action from one of the people she follows.
“A cool thing you can do today is try to find out which of your local schools have kids with overdue lunch accounts and pay them off,” Ashley C. Ford said.
Bloom, who works for the University of Wisconsin-Madison, thought Ford’s idea was a great way to give back to her community. Bloom started a GoFundMe campaign to benefit students with overdue lunch accounts in the Madison Metropolitan School District. When she started the campaign on Friday, she set a goal of $2,000, thinking she would get a few donations from her family and friends.
However, the campaign started trending on Saturday and Bloom surpassed her goal by nearly $300.
“The response has been really positive and reassuring. I’ve had people that I don't even know give me surprising sums of money to pass on to the school district,” Bloom said.
Sixty-five people have donated to Bloom's campaign so far and it has been shared on social media over 500 times. Bloom plans to run her campaign through December 22, a date with a tie to the holiday season.
"(The date) gives the campaign an ending and a narrative for the people who have been involved so they can see directly where their contributions went," she said.
Steve Youngbauer, MMSD director of food and nutrition, said this is the first time he has seen a giving campaign dedicated to paying down overdue lunch balances.
“It is another display of the generosity and kindness of the people in Madison and other areas,” he said. “I had a meeting this morning with our food service staff and they were really energized (by the campaign.) We really appreciate it.”
While Youngbauer was not able to disclose to the Cap Times the amount of the overdue meal balance across the district, he said that MMSD will make sure the funds raised are used for the families that need it most.
“We will look at trying to find cases of special need where (families) have built up negative balances. We will look for things like hardship cases, medical cases, or if a family has lost a home or a job,” Youngbauer said. “We will do some work internally to identify those families to make sure the funds get used in the best way possible.”
Since Ford posted her suggestion, people in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Seattle and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, have started their own online fundraisers to support their local school districts. There have also been reports recently of people paying off meal balances for individual schools or students.
Stephanie Moomjian also saw Ford’s tweet and started her campaign on Monday. In the last 24 hours, she has raised over $200.
“It touched me because I also was a student that had a single mom and I know that financial stress,” she said. “I just thought it would be great to do something within our own community.”
Moomjian was surprised by how great the need was for funds across the district, but said she feels her campaign will still be able to make an impact for some Madison families.
“It’s something," she said. "I am all about just doing something."