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Chobani donates nearly $50,000 to help pay off R.I. school district’s student lunch debt

Warwick Public Schools had planned to serve a sunbutter and jelly sandwich — instead of a hot meal — to students from families who had an outstanding balance on their paid, free, or reduced school lunch account.Morgan Rachel Levy/New York Times/file

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Yogurt company Chobani has donated nearly $50,000 to help pay off school lunch debt accrued by low-income families in Warwick, R.I., after controversy surrounding an impending school policy about serving cold sandwiches to children led to widespread condemnation and made national headlines this week.

Hamdi Ulukaya, the company’s chief executive, pledged the $47,650 to Warwick Public Schools after finding out that the district had planned to serve a sunbutter and jelly sandwich — instead of a hot meal — to students from families who had an outstanding balance on their paid, free, or reduced school lunch account.

The rule was set to go into effect Monday, according to a post that went up on the Warwick Public Schools Facebook page on Sunday.


School officials later walked back the policy after the news sparked outrage across the country, saying Wednesday that “after careful review” a subcommittee is recommending the Warwick School Committee “allow the students their choice of lunch regardless of their account status.”

Although the district decided to put the policy on hold, Chobani still wanted to “step up to the plate” and help ensure all kids get a hot meal, the company said.

In a tweet Thursday about its donation, Ulukaya said that as a parent, “news of #WarwickPublicSchools breaks my heart.”

“Every child should have access to natural, nutritious & delicious food,” he wrote, “so @Chobani is doing our small part.”

Ulukaya encouraged others to join the company’s efforts. The donation is part of the company’s larger goal of calling attention to the “crisis of food insecurity among students” nationwide, according to a press release.


In a telephone interview with the Globe on Friday, Courtney Marciano, press secretary for Warwick Mayor Joseph J. Solomon’s office, confirmed that the city will accept the donation from Chobani to go toward paying off a portion of the lunch debt.

She said the money from Chobani and its chief executive will cover the cost owed by low-income families. But because the district’s total outstanding lunch debt is around $77,000, officials say, a large portion will still be unpaid.

To help offset the balance, Marciano said the city set up a donations page through the school district’s website that allows people to help out if they want to.

“For the many, many generous people offering to make donations to the District, we have posted a donations form,” the school wrote Friday. “Thank you again for your generosity – our students thank you as well!”

Marciano said the city has heard that “other donations will be filtering in.”

Additionally, a pair of GoFundMe campaigns — launched in response to the sunbutter sandwich policy — have brought in tens of thousands of dollars in a matter of days. The campaigns have raised around $90,000.

Charlotte Clymer, who started one of the online fund-raisers, told the Globe that the goal was to pay off all of the lunch debt for the district.


If the debt gets covered, Clymer said, any leftover money raised should be put toward a national organization that works on this issue.

Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear. Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.