By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
Jay and Arline Hoffman of the Hoffman Company, the developer behind Hoffman Town Center, paid off all $18,500 in student lunch debt at T.C. Williams High School and its Minnie Howard Campus on Jan. 12, according to a news release.
The donation cleared the high school’s lunch debt and cut the school division’s lunch debt from about $60,000 to $41,500, according to ACPS.
“When I first learned of it, obviously I was really excited and just thought, what a nice way to start off the new year with such a generous gift to our students,” T.C. Williams Principal Peter Balas said.
The Hoffmans have lived in Alexandria their entire lives – Arline attended what was once George Washington High School, as did Jay’s father. Giving back to a community that has given them so much is the least they can do, Jay Hoffman said. Last year, the Hoffmans donated funds to buy uniforms for every Ramsay Elementary School student.
“Anything that we can do to tell those that need a helping hand, if we can, we will be there for them,” Jay Hoffman said.
Lunch debt accumulates in students’ meal accounts. Every ACPS student has a meal account that they use to pay for meals at school. If a student doesn’t have any money in their account, ACPS doesn’t turn them away from the cafeteria line, Balas said.
“The accounts do run into the negatives sometimes,” Balas said. “And sometimes it’s a function of parents just having to go back online and replenish or an ‘I forgot’ kind of thing, and then [for] others, it’s a real struggle.”
According to ACPS, 56 percent of ACPS students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. ACPS provides free breakfast and lunch for students who qualify under the National School Lunch Act and Child Nutrition Act.
“There’s students who do have the debt and who really are financially struggling. It could mean so much,” Balas said. “As a student myself, I grew up in a single-parent household. We were on welfare; I was on free and reduced lunch. … If it’s a family that’s struggling week to week or check to check, that can mean a whole lot of difference to know that you no longer have that balance hanging over your head.”
Jay and Arline Hoffman said they wanted their good deed to go beyond a one-time donation; they wanted to raise awareness about donating to public schools.
“Everybody knows that private schools receive a lot of donations from the parents of the children that go there, but what people in Alexandria don’t understand is that public schools can, and will, accept donations – and need them,” Jay Hoffman said. “We tend to forget public schools because we think they’re entirely funded by the government, and they barely make ends meet.”
The Hoffmans aren’t the only ones concerned about school lunches. Several pieces of proposed state legislation which address statewide meal options go before the Virginia General Assembly during the 2020 legislative session.