Community Education

Peninsula School District receives anonymous gift to erase lunch debt in Key Peninsula schools

Posted on January 18th, 2024 By:

An anonymous donation of $34,425 will hack into Peninsula School District’s ballooning student lunch debt, which now stands at just more than $100,000.

The school board  gratefully and formally accepted the donation Tuesday, Jan. 16.

The donor earmarked the money specifically for schools on the Key Peninsula. Those include Vaughn, Evergreen and Minter Creek elementary schools and Key Peninsula Middle School.

Key Peninsula schools are some of the district’s highest-poverty schools, along with Henderson Bay High School, which offers alternative education.

“This is a very generous donation, and we are very, very grateful to any of our community members,” said Superintendent Krestin Bahr.

An anonymous donor gave over $34,000 to pay off school lunch for Key Peninsula Middle School and Peninsula School District elementary schools west of the Purdy Bridge. Photo by Christina T. Henry

Lunch debt by the numbers

The district last year received two large donations of $6,000 in March and $3,224 in June from Wallace Watts, a local resident known as Captain SeaHawk, and his wife Cammie, aka KamHawk. The couple enjoy notoriety for their over-the-top Seattle Seahawks fan personas.

They earmarked their donations for Peninsula High School, whose mascot is the Seahawks. The second installment targeted graduating seniors, who must clear all debts before getting their diplomas.

When the couple made their first donation in March 2023, Peninsula High had the largest meal debt in the district with $12,744 owed. Key Peninsula Middle School’s debt of $16,564 since eclipsed that figure.

The amount owed at the elementary schools is as follows: Evergreen, $5130; Minter Creek, $5,530; and Vaughn, $8,079.

Evergreen and Vaughn qualify for state funding from a bill passed last year to provide free meals for all students at the state’s highest-poverty schools. The recent donation will wipe out meal debt for all students at those schools. Debt won’t accumulate going forward.

Students eat lunch at Peninsula High School in March 2023. The school in February 2023 received a $6,000 donation to pay off students’ meal debt. The gift came from Wallace Watts of Gig Harbor, aka Captain Seahawk, who raffles off Seattle Seahawks football memorabilia to raise funds for various causes, primarily “the homeless and the hungry.”

Meals served, no questions asked

When pandemic aid to schools ended, including provisions for free meals for all, the district’s lunch debt increased significantly. Last March, it was $71,128. The total lunch debt for the district is now $100,136.

Students accrue lunch debt in various ways. Sometimes a family may forget to refill their student’s meal account. They may have a family illness or job loss that makes paying for meals hard. Families may not know they have to fill out the income-based free meal eligibility form each year. Or they may know about the form but refrain from filling it out due to fear about the stigma of “free lunch.”

The district aims to eliminate that stigma by serving meals on demand, Bahr said. If a student shows up in the cafeteria and asks for breakfast or lunch, the district will serve it, no questions asked.

“I think it’s important to note that anytime, we never, ever will turn a student away, even if they are in arrears, if they’re in the red in terms of the lunch amount they owe,” Bahr said. “So, if I’m like $10 or $15 in arrears and I go up and get lunch, I’m given lunch. It’s not thrown away in the garbage. You’re not humiliated in front of others. Those things are not allowed.”