GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. (WGHP) — Guilford County Schools needs to address its mounting breakfast and lunch debt. With the debt currently around $122,000 and climbing, it’s not an easy task.

“We have to approach it delicately because we never want to single any students out,” said Travis Fisher, executive director of student nutrition with GCS.

Since the beginning of the school year, about 5700 students have racked up more than $122,000 dollars in meal debt. Fisher believes the problem for families is likely two-fold coming off the COVID-19 pandemic when federal funding meant meals were free for all students. 

“They’re probably not aware that the waivers went away…we have to charge for student meals now,” Fisher said. “The other part is the free and reduced applications and if they have not turned one in yet to see if they qualify.”

Under GCS’ Alternative Meal Program, which the Guilford County Board of Education approved re-implementing in mid-December, students who owe around $20 or more– equivalent to five breakfasts and five lunches– will receive a less expensive meal. Like regular meals, alternative meals include milk or water, fruits and vegetables and bread. The difference is the alternative meal does not include an entree such as a chicken sandwich. 

GCS is in frequent communication with families who owe money for school meals.

“We’ve made phone calls. We’ve sent home letters. We’ve sent emails, texts if we have the information (to let families know) that the student’s balance is getting low or that it’s negative,” Fisher said.

The school system has received about $60,000 in donations towards meal debt so far, and Fisher hopes that charitable giving continues.

“We welcome…any donations that we can take in for these students,” Fisher said. “At the end of the year…the closer we can get to paying that down, the better. However, debt occurs every single day that the students eat.”