School district rebuffs restaurant owner's offer to pay student lunch debt

School district rebuffs restaurant owner's offer to pay student lunch debt
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A Rhode Island restaurant owner who attempted to offer her own money to pay down outstanding lunch debt owed by parents in a local school district says she was refused by district officials.

Restaurant owner Angelica Penta told a local NBC affiliate that Warwick, R.I., school officials "shot down" every idea she presented to pay the outstanding lunch debts when she recently approached them to resolve the issue.

"Everything that I said got shut down,” she said on Tuesday, according to WJAR. “Every idea I had got shut down."

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School officials are reportedly planning to begin serving only cold sandwiches made with sunflower seed butter and jelly to children of parents with outstanding lunch debt. The district is owed tens of thousands of dollars from parents who have failed to pay for their children's school lunches, an official told the Providence Journal.

Warwick School Department officials said that Penta's offer was rebuffed because it would put school officials in the position of deciding which children had their debts reduced, a process that could not be undertaken fairly.

“Each time these offers were made, Warwick Public Schools stated that the school department was not in the position to single out or identify specific students that should be selected for a reduction in their lunch debt while excluding others,” the school said in a statement reported by the local NBC affiliate.

"We have a lot of customers that believe what we're doing is right and they have no problem donating,” Penta responded, noting that she has raised about $12,000 so far. "Basically, the other kids are knowing that these kids can't afford lunch by having a sun butter sandwich."

In a Facebook post, Penta encouraged local parents to approach her for help with their lunch debts.

“If you need help reach out to me,” Penta wrote on Sunday, adding: “There is no need for any child to be denied a hot lunch. We never know a child’s or their family’s situation, everyone struggles at some point."