Smithfield has a “very generous” community, says Schools Supt. Dawn Bartz, and that generosity was demonstrated again last month when a local company paid out the schools department’s unpaid lunch credit.
According to Bartz, Stanley Tree Service wrote a check for $1,346.84 covering the unpaid balances of 204 children from 175 families.
“The donation was a very pleasant surprise for us and a tremendous benefit to families who may have been struggling to pay for their children’s meals,” Bartz said.
Bartz believes food insecurity is increasing in Smithfield and across the country due to rising prices. Students received free breakfast and lunch through the federal government for two years during the COVID pandemic, but that stopped this school year, according to Bartz.
“Just before the pandemic started in 2020, there was a relatively high negative balance paid by a local businessman,” she said.
Schools offer free or discounted rates for those who qualify, and Bartz says no child is ever denied a meal because they can’t pay. “If families can’t pay and there’s a negative balance at the end of the year, the school department covers the cost if they can’t cover the cost,” she said.
In elementary school, breakfast is $1 and lunch is $2.70. In the secondary school, breakfast is $1.25 and lunch is $2.80. Students from qualifying families can purchase breakfast for 30 cents and lunch for 40 cents at all schools.
The 175 families who had unpaid credits account for 11 percent of families with children in Smithfield schools, according to Bartz.
In paying the balance, Stanley Tree Service vice president and chief operating officer Bruce Berard said the employee-owned company “wanted to do our part to help children and their families.”
“Smithfield is our home and we wanted to do something meaningful, something that would have a tangible impact on our friends and neighbors,” said Berard.
Bartz said, “We have a very generous community.”
Many of the city’s business owners and school families grew up in Smithfield, she said, and some school families go back three or four generations.
“It’s a tight-knit community, and residents and business owners donate time, services and goods to the schools and towns,” she said. “As a school department, we are very fortunate to have this level of support.”