Local Church Covers Student Lunch Debt At Lake Wales Schools
by James Coulter
Students at three Lake Wales schools received an early Christmas present last Friday when a local church covered their lunch debt.
On Friday, representatives of First Baptist Church (FBC) of Lake Wales presented checks to the principals of Lake Wales High School and Bok Academy North and South to completely erase the lunch debt of any and all students at those schools.
The pastoral leadership team of FBC became inspired toward this gesture of love after learning of a similar act of kindness carried out by another church in another town. As the pastoral team discussed this possibility, they looked carefully at their budget and calculated that they would have enough to cover the total lunch debt of every child in Lake Wales.
Initially, they considered waiting to do this in conjunction with a service emphasis their church is undertaking in February entitled “I Love Lake Wales.” However, the thought of giving this gift to all the families who had some lunch debt here at Christmastime was too compelling for them to wait.
In explaining why FBC would do this Dr. Scott Markley, senior pastor, stated, “We believe that Jesus Christ paid our sin debt and as we relieve this debt for these students and their families, we hope it will remind them of that grace of God. We wanted to remind them how God loves them.”
Their pastoral team did some research and found that no elementary school students at any school in Lake Wales has lunch debt because any in need receive free lunches through state or federal programs.
As they looked around further, they found that no students at McLaughlin Middle School or Frostproof have any lunch debt for the same reason. However, they did find lunch debt existed at three local schools: Bok Academy North and South, and the largest amount of debt existed at Lake Wales High School.
Due to the faithful giving of their congregation in 2019 and a special “love offering” they receive at Christmas, FBC church leadership determined they could pay all the lunch debt for every student which was in the hundreds of dollars at each school. The monetary gift to the schools covered debts ranging from less than $3 to more than $60, according to Dr. Markley.
Originally, Dr. Markley said, his church was only going to cover the costs of the larger debts. But after giving it much consideration, they decided to cover the small debts, as well.
“The sacrifice of Jesus Christ paid the debts of all sins, so we wanted to pay all of them,” he said. “The Lord gave people a fresh start in life, so we wanted to give these families a fresh start for the New Year to remind them of that.”
As Dr. Markley spoke of sharing about this decision with the FBC family on the coming Sunday, he stated, “Our church loves the community, so I think everyone will be so excited that we can do this by the grace of God. We love our city, and we are always looking for ways to show the love of Christ in our community.”
“Lake Wales High School has more than 1,600 students. Some of them are not able to pay their lunch in full, so gracious donations, such as this, certainly prove helpful,” explained Lake Wales High School Principal Donna Dunson.
She continued, “In anyone’s life, sometimes there is an ebb and flow with financial security. For some of our kids, this [will be] a real boost for them. It is huge! It is absolutley incredible and heartwarming and [reminds us of] the goodness that is the Lake Wales community. I am not surprised by this gesture [by FBC] because they reach out in so many ways, small ways and large ways, and it will help so many kids.”