MOORESVILLE, N.C. (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — During the pandemic, families across North Carolina relied on free lunch programs to feed their kids.

Now that the federal program has expired, many are falling behind on lunch bills.

“It is just a challenge in every direction,” School Nutrition Director Kimberly McCall said. “When you go from paying zero to a dollar or $2.15. That’s a huge increase. Families are dealing with exorbitant costs right now.”

Currently, Mooresville Graded School District students get lunch and breakfast, whether paid for or not. Right now, the district is owed more than $91,000 in missed lunch payments, which is growing by the day.

“This is a national problem, it is not just Mooresville,” Nicole Grandelli said.

In December, a local company with personal ties to the school approached the district, asking to take care of some of that debt. Grandelli has three children in the district and was shocked to learn how much families owed.

“I could only imagine how that parent is feeling that they can’t afford that $3.15, but that is $600 a year for that kid to eat lunch,” Grandelli said.

Her company, CSI Community Management, donated $50,000 to the district to help with the lunch debt. The money is going directly to student accounts that owe money.

“It is just incredible. It is going to have a positive impact on so many families,” McCall said.

McCall says the school has not had to increase meal costs since 2013. She says she does not know how long it can maintain those prices with rising inflation.

“The fact is, we could pay off the entire debt this school year, but those same students that may not qualify for free or reduced meals are just going to not be able to pay next year,” McCall said.