The notion was simple and profound, and it hit Lilly-Anne Cowart last spring after her fifth-grade year at Mullan Road Elementary School: “Everyone needs a good lunch to be able to learn.”
The problem is, some families can’t afford it.
“That inspired me to help,” she said.
Cowart’s curiosity was fed by stories of student lunch debt across the country. So she resolved to help anyway she could – starting with approaching her father, Andrew, the general manager at Larry H. Miller Downtown Honda in Spokane.
Her goal was to erase the student lunch debt at Mullan Road.
She did better than that.
On Monday afternoon, in front of hundreds of students in the Mullan Road gym, Lilly and her father presented a check for $10,000 to the Spokane Public Schools Benevolence Fund.
“This fund this will help a lot of families,” said Doug Wordell, the district’s director of nutrition services.
It was Wordell who told Andrew Cowart of the tremendous need. “It blew my mind how big this issue is in Spokane,” Cowart said.
Cowart told his daughter, “Honey, I can’t help – it’s too big of a problem,” Cowart recalled.
“Then I went to the dealership and we put our minds together,” Cowart said.
The sales staff took it from there, raising $10,000 in two months.
Andrew Cowart wasn’t surprised.
“We have a great team of sales guys who believe in helping the community,” he said. “And once they heard it was Lilly – they love her – they got behind her 100%. … We’re really committed to giving back to the community that we live in and raise our children in.”
Throughout July and August, the dealership donated part of the proceeds from each sale. Lilly often came by to check on their progress, which was marked by a thermometer graph and the signatures of car buyers.
When the graph hit $10,000, Lilly said she was “so happy I almost cried.”
It was a proud day for the Cowarts. “I’m proud that she’s getting the recognition, but that’s who she is every day,” Andrew said.
The money will go far in reducing the district’s lunch debt.
Low-income families receive financial assistance in the form of free and reduced-price meals. However, not all families apply and some are deemed ineligible.
Students from families whose incomes are at or below 130% of the poverty level qualify for free school meals. Children whose family incomes are between 130% and 185% of the poverty level are eligible for reduced-price meals.
For the 2018-19 school year, 130% of the poverty level was $32,630 for a family of four.
According to Wordell, staff at each school will identify families with legitimate lunch debt.
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