Polk Co. church pays off lunch debt for Lake Wales students

Polk County

POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Dozens of students in Lake Wales will go back to school in 2020 without any school lunch debt.

It wasn’t Santa that gave them that gift. It was a local church.

“It just seemed to us a no brainer,” said Dr. Scott Markley, the pastor at First Baptist Church of Lake Wales. “We’re always looking for fresh new ways to show the love of Christ in a tangible way to people in our community.”

Associate Pastor Barry Hooten had a conversation with Bok Academy North principal Donna Drisdom. She said she paid off a $62 school lunch debt for one of her students.

Courtesy First Baptist Church of Lake Wales

“We do what we need to do to help our families,” Drisdom told News Channel 8’s Staci DaSilva.

Pastor Markley did not find that acceptable.

“With the thought of Christmas here and the start of the new year, parents and children be able to start fresh,” he said. “On a personal level, it’s significant because I know that God has forgiven me through Christ my sin debt so we want to let people know the love of God, the forgiveness of God through this gesture.”

The church paid off $1,600 in school lunch debt at Bok Academy North, Bok Academy South and Lake Wales High School, which are all charter schools.

They don’t qualify for free lunch for all their students.

If a student accrues school lunch debt, he or she eventually will be given an alternative meal. After a few months, they can be denied lunch.

“You may not think of it as a big deal but for these families in need, it’s a huge deal,” said Dr. Damien Moses, principal at Bok Academy South.

Courtesy First Baptist Church of Lake Wales

Two dozen of his students had a total of $444 in debt erased.

“The contribution was a huge, huge uplift to a lot of those families. So we appreciate they can come back with a clean slate so they can focus on just their academics,” said Dr. Moses.

“There’s no strings attached. We’re not looking for anything from them. We just hope it directs them toward the love of God and know that they’re loved by God through this act,” said Pastor Markley.

The church paid off $700 in school lunch debt Lake Wales High School.

Courtesy First Baptist Church of Lake Wales

“If you’ve never been in a situation like that in your life it may seem like ‘What’s the big deal?’” said Lake Wales High School Principal Donna Dunson. “We have families that if they get behind, they have a very difficult time. Some families, if they lose their job, just how they struggle. It is a big deal.”

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