Some area churches are teaming up to pay down lunch debts at the Frazee School District.
"We don't want the kids to face any consequences because of that (lunch debt)," said Stephanie Winjum, the district's business manager. "Our district has taken a stand that every child will eat and they will get a hot meal."
Students aren't told when their account balance is low or negative. Instead, parents or guardians receive calls at night, either daily or weekly depending on the balance. If the balance isn't paid once the student graduates, it doesn't disappear either.
"When a student leaves, essentially what happens is the debt goes onto a sibling, or gets absorbed (by the school)," Winjum explained.
These absorbed amounts or yet-to-be-paid accounts have quickly added up to a total lunch debt of more than $11,000.
This holiday season, two Frazee churches are working to lower and, they hope, eliminate that amount.
"We just wanted to do something to bless our community over Christmas Eve," said Ryan Stockstrom, lead pastor at Harvest Fellowship Church. "We wanted people to know that the church is here to bless the community it is a part of ... in a tangible way."
Stockstrom and Caleb Monson, the associate pastor at the church, led the lunch debt payment idea. It wasn't their original plan to do that as their community action; they had looked into many different avenues before Monson brought the idea of the lunch debt payment.
Once said, they stuck with Monson's idea, contacting Winjum and getting more information on the lunch debt and the logistics paying down the amount.
"We don't care (why they're in debt). We don't care what the reason is. We just want to bless people," Monson said.
To try to get other churches involved, Stockstrom wrote to other local churches, asking if they wanted to team up and be involved as well.
"We were on board immediately with it," said Ed Borchardt, pastor for Bethlehem Lutheran Church. "That's a heck of a debt ... It happens to all of us."
"They were all very enthusiastic (about helping)," Stockstrom said, noting that Bethlehem did officially join them in the effort. "It's just fun to be able to be like 'hey, we get to do something together for God.'"
Bethlehem is taking free-will donations at every service through the month of December. They chose not to do one specific day because of their church members traveling throughout the states.
"Our goal is to raise $4,000," Borchardt said.
He credits the church council, especially Dave Trautmann, for heading the efforts to raise the money, saying that "I'm really proud of the members for jumping in and doing this."
Coincidentally, Harvest Fellowship's goal is to raise another $7,000, which adds to a $12,000 goal between the two churches. That goal matches the lunch debt total, which wasn't done on purpose.
"It was $20,000 at the time that we set those goals, so it was kind of cool that it worked out like that," Monson said.
They are taking an official donation during their 5 p.m. service on Christmas Eve, but have taken donations since they announced the debt payment plan to the church. They have received payments from church members, but also from a variety of other community members that don't attend the church.
"It's not necessarily the biggest church day," Stockstrom said, explaining why they decided on Christmas Eve. "We just thought 'let's just make this an extra special night by celebrating the reason of the season by giving.'"
By donating these funds to the school, there is a possibility that missing those funds could affect the churches. But, all three pastors are faithful that it will not.
"The people here trust the Lord. It's not going to affect us any," Borchardt said. "People are always willing to give. Most people know what it's like to be there (in debt for school lunch) ... They're always the first to give it back."
Stockstrom echoed the same statement, saying that "we are having faith that God is going to provide for us."
If either church raises extra money than what is needed to erase the debt, they plan to give it to the school to use to their discretion.
"It's awesome to partner with other churches ... and being able to impact the community," Monson said.
How to help
Donate online: https://pushpay.com/g/harvestfrazee.
At Bethlehem Lutheran Church:
- Services: 7 p.m. Wednesdays; 9 a.m. Sundays; 5 and 10 p.m. Tuesday for Christmas Eve; 9 a.m. Wednesday for Christmas Day.
- Contact: 210 E. Maple Ave., 218-334-2866, www.bethlehemfrazee.org/home.
At Harvest Fellowship Church:
- Services: 10 a.m. Sundays; 5 p.m. Tuesday for Christmas Eve (donation collection day).
- Contact: 806 Frazee Road, 218-334-3101, www.harvestfrazee.org.