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RI School district changes cold sandwich policy after backlash; Chobani yogurt steps in to pay debts

Hamdi Ulukaya,

WARWICK, R.I.   — A Rhode Island school district reversed its decision to start serving cold sandwiches instead of hot lunches next week to students whose families owe lunch money.

Warwick Public Schools had said it would serve sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches to students whose families are in arrears beginning Monday, sparking a public backlash and upsetting the mayor, who asked the school committee to reconsider. The district said it was owed about $77,000 for lunches and couldn’t absorb more debt.

Hamdi Ulukaya,  Chairman and CEO of Chobani, posted a video on his Facebook page saying that the company will help pay off the debt.

as a parent, news out of #WarwickPublicSchools breaks my heart.. every child should have access to natural, nutritious & delicious food, so Chobani is stepping up to do our small part by paying off this debt

but the problem is bigger & businesses must do their part to help.. our responsibility as members of community to help children in need. who will join us?!

School Committee Chairwoman Karen Bachus said Wednesday on Facebook that committee members have now recommended that students get their choice of lunch regardless of their account status. About 1,650 students owed money as of last Friday.

About 70% of those students are not enrolled in the program for free or reduced price lunches, Bachus added.

She said they’re also working with attorneys on a way to accept donations to help settle lunch debt, after a local restaurant owner says the district twice turned down his offer to donate $4,000.

About $14,000 was collected from families with outstanding balances this week, after the cold sandwich policy was announced, Bachus said. She said they’re seeking to find a balance between being fiscally responsible and ensuring that all students get a healthy, nutritious lunch.

Critics say such lunch debt policies shame children for something outside of their control. Pending legislation would change state law making free hot lunches available for all students regardless of income.

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