In Twin Falls, Idaho, a middling-sized city towards the South edge of the state, yogurt company Chobani operates a plant that added about 7,000 jobs to the area when they moved in in late 2012. That’s more than a tenth of the city’s population, and the plant is the world’s largest yogurt manufacturing plant. Only a few years later, those who control Chobani began to feel that they need to be more a part of the local community, so they devised a plan.
In May of 2019, Chobani reached out to the Twin Falls school district with an offer. They wished to help cover lunch debt for the district’s students. To that end, they donated $85,000, enough to cover the debt of over 900 students during the 2018-19 school year from the district’s 16 public schools.
The Twin Falls School District feeds its students approximately 7,700 meals every day, including breakfast and lunch. Students who can’t pay are always given food, but the amount is credited against them.
“From year to year students often accumulate debt that the district is forced to cover and cannot spend in other ways to improve education,” said district spokeswoman Eva Craner in a statement about Chobani’s donation.
Lunch debt is a growing problem for school districts around the country as food prices rise and many districts outsource feeding their students to concessionaire companies who are profit-driven. Many schools operate like those in Twin Falls; students who can’t pay are fed, and a bill is sent home to their parents without consequences to the students.
But other districts aren’t so kind. Stories arise of kids being forced to work janitorial labor for their food, or having it taken away at the lunch counter and replaced with inadequate substitutes like a single sandwich. For example, Warwick Public Schools in Rhode Island told parents, “If money is owed on a paid, free, or reduced lunch account, a sun butter and jelly sandwich will be given as the lunch choice until the balance owed is paid in full or a payment plan is set up through the food service office.”
Chobani’s generous donation has not even halfway covered the lunch debt in Twin Falls. There’s still another $115,000 carried over from previous years.