Chobani Yogurt Company Helps Pay Lunch Debt for Warwick, RI, Schoolchildren [Updated]

Photo: bhofack2/ iStock

Rhode Island’s Warwick Public Schools faced controversy earlier this week when the district announced that students with unpaid lunch balances would be denied hot food. Now yogurt brand Chobani is stepping up to pay off almost $48,000 of the $77,000 worth of student debts, CNN reports.

In what many have called a method of shaming the poor, the plan called for children in debt to be given a sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwich, instead of the hot meals their classmates would receive, until their balances were paid.

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As outrage over the new rule grew, some people decided to do more about it than wag a finger of disapproval; they found ways to help. Most visibly, Chobani founder and CEO Hamdi Ulukaya hopped on Twitter on Thursday (May 9) to announce some big news for the families of Warwick.

He also issued a statement. “As a parent, this news breaks my heart,” he wrote. “For every child, access to naturally nutritious and delicious food should be a right, not a privilege. When our children are strong, our families are stronger. And when our families are strong, our communities are stronger. Business can and must do its part to solve the hunger crisis in America and do its part in the communities they call home.”

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In addition to paying $47,650 of the amount owed, according to CNN, Chobani will be donating cups and yogurt to the Warwick community.

By the time this announcement came, the Warwick school district had already started backpedaling in the backlash. According to the Providence Journal, Karen Bachus, chairwoman of Warwick’s school committee, confirmed that the district would not be carrying out its proposal to withhold hot lunches and food options from the children who owed money.

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It’s great to see outrage and protection for our young. It’s even better to see large food companies stepping up to help children in need; hopefully more companies will come together to pay these debts across the nation, and donate nutritious food like Chobani has. Still, it’d be best of them to use their corporate power to also push for higher wages and more job opportunities for the working class. That way, affording school lunch isn’t an issue at all. Give a hand up, not just a handout. Address the real root issues.

In addition to the help from Chobani, a GoFundMe account has also pooled together over $56,000 from the public as of Saturday morning (May 11) to offset student lunch debt in Warwick Public Schools.

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Update: Sept. 17, 2019, 2:15 p.m. ET: This article has been revised to reflect the news reported by CNN on May 12 that Chobani has pledged to pay off a portion of the $77,000 debt, not the entire amount.

Correction: Sept. 17, 2019, 2:15 p.m. ET: This story has been edited to remove unattributed text and to add fuller sourcing.

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