Many students in Thurston, Lewis, and Grays Harbor Counties will return to school in the fall with zero school lunch debt courtesy of a grant from the TwinStar Community Foundation, the nonprofit arm of Olympia-based TwinStar Credit Union.

The Washington Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction reports nearly 1,150,000 students enrolled in Washington schools. While many of these students can afford their lunches or have the benefit of free or reduced lunch, many still accrue debt from inability to pay for their lunches. In the U.S., the average cost of a school lunch for an elementary student is $2.48 and rises to $2.74 for high school students, according to schoolnutrition.org.

In the face of this debt and the lingering coronavirus-related economic crisis, TwinStar decided it needed to act, proffering a $68,500 grant to erase debt for many students across three South Sound counties, according to a news release from the foundation.

“The past few months have been stressful for all of us,” TwinStar Community Foundation president Laurie Kresl said in the release. “Our school children and their families should not have added worry once back in school about lingering school lunch debt.”

This not the first time TwinStar has helped with school lunch debt, in fact, the foundation has given more than $150,500 toward the cause since 2017.

“TwinStar Credit Union was founded by teachers during the Great Depression to help them through troubled economic times,” Kresl continued. “Today, we face similar challenges and we are committed to providing solutions like this to help families in financial distress.”

School districts helped by the grants include Montesano, Cosmopolis, North Beach, Oakville, Mossyrock, Adna, Chehalis, Napavine, Onalaska, Morton, Griffin, North Thurston, Rochester, Tumwater, Yelm, Rainier, and Olympia.

Julie Mondry, financial services manager for Yelm Community Schools, emphasized the benefit of school lunches and expressed gratitude toward the foundation.

“Nutrition is imperative to learning,” Mondry said in the release. “This grant will cover nearly all outstanding lunch debt for our six elementary schools. We’re grateful to the foundation for their generosity and kindness in providing this opportunity to help students in their learning environment.”

The grants provided by the TwinStar Community Foundation largely are funded by TwinStar Credit Union and also are used to fund college scholarships for high school seniors, continuing education scholarships, child daycare scholarships for a college-bound parents, and classroom supplies for elementary school teachers.