Students discuss Meals Matter with Mayor, United Way

NASHUA – Nashua High School South students who worked to create the Meals Matter proposal met with Mayor Jim Donchess and United Way of Greater Nashua President Mike Apfelberg on Monday to discuss the steps they will take to implement the plan, which endeavors to provide food to hungry children.

Nashua Board of Education members recently approved the concept, which students Jenna Hantula, Patrick Martin and Sawyer Cosgrove presented upon learning that about 100 of their fellow Nashua High School South students were often going hungry throughout the school day. These students worked with teachers Suzanne Winters and Lisa Yates to design the strategy.

“It’s obvious to everyone that it’s very difficult to learn anything if you don’t have enough to eat,” Donchess said. “The idea that you’re trying to get this going and help your fellow students is extremely admirable, and I think everybody was very inspired about it.”

The policy at Nashua High School South has been simply: “No money – No Breakfast or Lunch!” This is a sign students walking through the school’s cafeteria line see on a daily basis.

Donchess told the students he was there to meet with them to tell them that city leaders are willing to work on the problem. “We will work on getting a contribution and anything we can think of,” Donchess said.

Donchess then asked the students how they believe current policy should be changed.

Hantula said she believes officials should do something similar to what Nashua’s elementary and middle schools do by still allowing the students to have some kind of meal even if their account is negative.

One student shared his story about struggling to buy lunch on a daily basis. Declining to give his name, he said his account was at negative 25 cents on Monday. Fortunately, he had enough money on him to pay for lunch, but he said that is not always the case.

“My family makes $150 more than we are supposed to (to qualify for free and reduced lunches) and I still don’t have the money to pay for lunch because of the rent situation in my house,” the student said. “I’m paying about $200 a week so my family can live where we do and if I don’t pay that, we lose either internet or heat or something.”

Martin said the school’s “No Money” sign was the whole inspiration of the Meals Matter proposal.

“(The sign) kind of just broke our hearts. We’ve all seen it – kids getting denied lunch because they don’t have enough money in their account,” Martin said.

“It’s not just about raising money. It’s about educating the community on why food insecurity is a problem,” Winters told Donchess.

Moving forward with their plan, the students have estimated three major sources of income for their goal of raising $30,000.

Martin said these three sources should include funding from the United Way’s donation page; fundraising events that they plan to host, such as the “Tape a Teacher to the Wall” fundraiser that will be happening in a few weeks; and selling Meals Matter attire.

The $30,000 goal came from the estimation that 100 kids aren’t eating, Hantula said. Lunch is $3.00. They predict that by the time they get their account set up with food services, they will have about 100 days left for the year.

Hantula said there could potentially be more than 100 students who need help, and they will continue to collect data for next year.

Cosgrove said they are also planning on submitting a paper on their project to compete in a DECA competition.

As of now, the students have seen 11 donations come through on their online portal with the United Way, which can be found at https://app.mobilecause.com/form/yBydpw?vid=3kki.

The portal opened less than a week ago.

Winters said they also have about $600 that needs to be moved over to the account. On top of this, different businesses and banks, along with Nashua Teachers’ Union, have pledged to donate. Those who are interested can also text “Meals Matter” to 41444 to donate.

During the Monday meeting, Apfelberg asked the students how else they could help. The students suggested a community event to help raise awareness. Donchess and Apfelberg expressed their support.

The group is hoping to get their first event started around the holidays.

Grace Pecci can be reached at 594-1243, or gpecci@nashuatelegraph.com.