‘She’s the hands and feet of Jesus’: Piedmont woman generously pays off student lunch debts in full at multiple schools to honor father

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ALAMANCE COUNTY, N.C. – Several families who owe money on school lunch accounts will get a surprising notice this week.

Their accounts have been paid in full, thanks to the generosity of a Piedmont woman.

Kristen Thompson-Riley has been paying off student lunch debts at multiple schools in Alamance County for three years now.

She always drops off those checks on March 20 – a date that has been bittersweet over the years.

“My dad passed away unexpectedly on March the 20th 1994,” Thompson-Riley said.

“After that, March the 20th every year was a black cloud looming over me,” she said.

That was until in 2014, 20 years after his death and the year she turned 40, she decided that dreaded day would now become focused on good deeds.

With that attitude in mind, she started Operation Wink.

Wink is the childhood nickname her father gave her.

Thompson-Riley’s mother passed away in 2015.

She says both her parents were people who believed in giving back.

Through Operation Wink she is sharing the same values they instilled in her.

At the end of February, Thompson-Riley calls schools for the outstanding balance, sets a goal, and spreads the word to other donors.

“We actually exceeded our goal this year making it $4,000 of the $3,900,” she said.

$4,000 is the largest donation since Operation Wink began.

That money paid off school lunch balances across six schools this month - Eastern Alamance High School, Woodlawn Middle School, Hawfields Middle School, EM Yoder Elementary, South Mebane Elementary, and Audrey Garrett Elementary.

South Mebane Elementary received the largest donation of $1,300.

“By Kristen doing this, that relieves not only that financial burden for our families, but it removes that financial burden for us at the end of the year if it’s not paid off,” said Rebecca Royal, the principal at South Mebane Elementary.

“She’s the hands and feet of Jesus and she really takes that calling seriously,” Royal said.

Royal will notify parents that their outstanding lunch balances have been covered by Operation Wink’s donation through a letter.

Thompson-Riley believes her father would be proud of what she’s doing to honor his memory.

“I think so. I think so,” she said.

It’s estimated that Operation Wink has paid off approximately $9,800 in student lunch debt since 2014, helping families who do not qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Thompson-Riley hopes her story will inspire others to participate in similar acts of kindness in their communities.