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BANDON ─ More than $7,000 in school lunch debt has been paid in full at the Bandon School District.

The district paid off the debt last week after receiving a $64,000 grant from the Michael Keiser Fund through The Oregon Community Foundation.

“We do not normally pay off lunch debt…,” said Doug Ardiana, Bandon School District superintendent, adding that the district decided to use the grant to pay off the lunch debt to relieve stress on families struggling during the pandemic. “…This is an extreme need for our students.”

The district receives the Michael Keiser Fund grant most years, but this is the first time it was used to pay off student lunch debt. And that debt, Ardiana said, is lower this year than prior years. On average, the district sees around $10,000 in debt from students who can’t pay for school lunch. According to Ardiana, the debt is less during the pandemic “because in the spring of last year, everyone got free food and (there were) less kids attending.”

When asked if he anticipates using future grants to continue paying off student lunch debt, the answer was no. He said at this point, it is just to help families get through the pandemic.

“…Usually (the grant) is used for other activities,” Ardiana said. “Previously, this grant has been used for athletic events, hosted basketball tournaments.”

This year, in addition to paying off all $7,481 in school lunch debt, Ardiana said $3,500 is going to each of the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams. Another $3,500 is going to each of the boys and girls golf, with $10,000 for the district’s speech and debate team. A total of $20,000 was allocated to the district’s grab-and-go meals, which included the lunch debt.

And another $20,000 went to the district’s extension activities, such as enrichment programs like art camps.

“I’m very proud of the support the district has for its students,” Ardiana said. “It’s very direct relief and the district is overwhelmingly appreciative of the work the Keiser grant has done … and it brings me pride that we have a community willing to take care of residents with the greatest need.”

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