Jones said, 'I was blown away. I was literally expecting, best-case scenario, maybe we'd get a couple of hundred bucks.'
It is amazing to see how big of a difference it makes when people come together for a cause on the internet. A Utah middle school teacher, Garrett Jones shared a six-second TikTok video in which he asked people to donate for outstanding lunch fees of students in his school district. He said that he wants to pay the fees "because the last thing a kid should be worrying about is how much they owe for meals." The video went viral with more than 5.3 million views. Moreover, Jones posted the video as a twist on a social media trend in which people were requesting small donations towards different causes like personal trips, weddings, or dream cars. He had no clue that the video will help him raise more than $30,000 for the school lunch, as reported by USA TODAY.
Jones said, "I was blown away. I was literally expecting, best-case scenario, maybe we'd get a couple of hundred bucks." He updated in the following videos that the funds will be going towards canceling outstanding lunch fees in the Wasatch County School District. Reportedly, students in Jones' school district were among the 50 million who received free lunches for two years under the federal program during the pandemic. Unfortunately, the program came to an end last year, and the students had to once again start paying the outstanding lunch fees in the cafeteria. “It's really not up to them to be able to pay, but it's them who we have to hand a little slip to take home and say, ‘Here's your balance,’ which isn't super fun for them or us,” Jones said.
Moreover, he shared that he spotted the kids in the halls during lunchtime, and while the school's cafeteria staff feeds the children even if they have an outstanding amount, it was important to make sure that kids don't avoid lunch due to debt. “I think for middle schoolers, probably the only thing worse than being hungry is being embarrassed,” Jones said. “Being at the front of the line and hearing they have a balance is likely enough to dissuade some of them from even eating at all.” Knowing that some students skip lunch to avoid embarrassment, he posted on TikTok requesting 2,673 people to donate $1 each via Venmo. The video was captioned, "Kids can’t learn if they’re hungry and don’t deserve to be handed a bill for lunch at a place they have to be. School lunch should be free."
Jones said that more than the generosity of people, it was the messages they were sending him. He said, "So many of [the donations] were $1, $2 or $3, and they [the donors] were like, ‘I really can't afford to do much more than this, but I was that kid, I know what it's like to get that slip and to hear that you have a balance.'” Jones, was honored as the Wasatch Education Foundation's Distinguished Educator of the Year last year. He is now working with the foundation to make sure that about $4000 of outstanding lunch fees in the district are covered.
Kimberly Dickerson, a member of the school board and the foundation's board of directors, told USA Today, “A hungry child cannot learn to their fullest potential, so for Garrett to realize how important it is to relieve the worry of students carrying a negative lunch balance shows enormous compassion." Jones also wants people who have helped with the outstanding amount to write to their representatives about the issue. “That's how we can have a lasting impact, and there is obviously pretty widespread support,” he said. “We just need to make them hear it.”