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A CEO says a school district turned down his offer to pay lunch bills for families threatened with foster care

Posted at 2:38 PM, Jul 24, 2019
and last updated 2019-07-24 19:57:08-04

The CEO of a Philadelphia coffee company says that the Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, school district that threatened to put children in foster care over unpaid lunch bills turned down his offer to pay the entire $22,476 bill.

La Colombe Coffee Roasters co-founder Todd Carmichael told CNN affiliate WNEP that he wanted to help these families because he received free and reduced lunch as a child, when his single mom had a limited income.

“No strings attached. We don’t want an airport named after us. We’d just like this debt to be forgiven. You know, a lot of these people are struggling,” Carmichael said.

He said the president of the Wyoming Valley West School Board told him no, but has since reconsidered and accepted the offer from Carmichael in an apology letter.
“We have seen the letter that they released and feel very optimistic,” said Carmichael’s spokesman, Aren Platt. “At this point, we expect … to ensure that the funds will be used as intended and that the parents will receive a letter that strikes the same apologetic tone as the one they put on their web site.”
The district also issued an apology for the way it worded of hundreds of letters it sent last week that told parents that there have been “multiple letters sent home with your child” and that no payments had been made.

“Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch,” the letter read. It also said failure to provide children with food could result in parents being sent to Dependency Court.

“If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care,” it read.

Luzerne County Manager David Pedri oversees the county’s foster care system and says it is there to help families in crisis, not collect lunch money.

“We’re not the boogeyman. We’re not going to come in the middle of the night and take your kids,” he said.

He says “generous and kindhearted people” have reached out to help.

“I’ve personally received five offers from both local and some other people from outside the state to pay off the lunch debts,” he said, adding that he sent them to the school district for review.

School board officials told WNEP that they had gotten more than 100 offers from all over the country.

Board Vice President David Usavage told WNEP that he supported taking the money.

“If we can get it in one lump sum, why do we want to have to go out and go after people? You know, call them, write them letters, do whatever we were going to do,” he said.