Two recent separate acts of giving went to the cause of offsetting lunch account debts for students in Amherst County Public Schools.

Dustin Wright, a Marine veteran and county resident, recently started a fund-raiser through social media and a GoFund Me account that raised $7,788, according to Kim Klein, child nutrition supervisor for the division. Amherst County High School’s Class of 1984 also raised $1,230 to support the effort, she said.

“They wanted it to wipe out the lunch debt for these kids,” Klein said of the pair of donations. “We were very appreciative of all the outpouring from the community. We’ve never seen anything like this before.”

Klein said 50% of students in the Amherst school division qualify for free or reduced lunch. Assistant Superintendent William Wells said the recent gestures marked the first time the division has received monetary gifts to offset school lunch debt.

“We haven’t had anything of this magnitude so we created a fund for it,” Klein said.

Wells and Klein each stressed full meals are served to all students who come through the serving line regardless of a meal debt.

Wright, 31, said in an interview he felt led to start the fundraiser after reading about a student in another state who had to return a hot meal because she couldn’t pay for it. He thought about it and asked a schools employee in Amherst about pursuing such an endeavor and moved forward.

A 2006 graduate of Amherst County High School who deployed for military service in Iraq from 2007 to 2008, Wright said the fundraising campaign reached $1,000 within five hours, which was his initial aim.

“I kept on upping the goal,” Wright said.

He said after conferring with school officials he learned the fundraiser he began was about $150 shy of completely paying off the debt total. Along with the high school’s Class of 1984 donation, Klein said any remaining money when the balance goes to zero goes into the account the division set up.

Wright said he was trying to do a “low key” act to help the schools and it picked up steam from supporters.

“That thing went so much farther than I thought it would,” Wright said. “I’d like to say I feel like I made a difference.”

He said people who served alongside him in the U.S. Marine Corps gave to the cause and news coverage also helped fuel the giving.

“I’ll tell you what, I was very surprised,” Wright said of the response. “Amherst County came together on that one.”

He said he is pleased to know the kids have hot meals regardless and the money serves to help relieve the debt families have to pay.

“We live in a country where we throw away food that is close to the expiration date,” Wright said. “There is no reason anyone, especially kids that are forced to go to school, should go hungry.”

Meal debts are not the kids’ fault, he said, thinking back to his time in school and families he didn’t think about at the time who were struggling with finances.

Derrick Brown, principal at ACHS, said the donations have been positively felt.

“We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of our community and alumni. Our students and families are incredibly appreciative of the support,” Brown said. “This kind of neighborly support is what makes Amherst County so special. We have started to work with several community members to continue the momentum to address other needs for our students, and we will be sharing more ways to partner with us in the coming months.”

Klein said anyone still wanting to contribute toward the goal of offsetting meal debts can contact cafeteria managers at their children’s school or email kklein@amherst.k12.va.us.

Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

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Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

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