Fairfield Ledger

Mt. Pleasant News   Wash Journal
Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 19, 2018

Woman donates to school lunches

By Andy Hallman, Ledger news editor | Mar 08, 2018
Photo by: ANDY HALLMAN/Ledger photo Vaju Moorthy, left, speaks with Fairfield schools food service director Stephanie Hawkins about Help Us Stop Hunger, a fund that provides lunches to children during the summer and to those in need during the school year. Moorthy has vowed to donate proceeds from her business every month until the deficit has been eliminated in the school’s meal program.

A Fairfield woman wants to do all she can to feed students in the Fairfield Community School District.

Vaju Moorthy cooks lunches every Friday at Phoenix Rising Hall, something she began in 1997. After years of selling lunches as a side gig in addition to her job at the Jefferson County Health Center, Moorthy wanted to do something more. She wanted to donate the proceeds of one lunch per month to a good cause. After donating to a few other charities such as The Lord’s Cupboard, Noah’s Ark, and the Ottumwa Crisis Center & Women’s Shelter, Moorthy heard about how the school district had a deficit balance in its meal program.

“I’ve always wanted to talk to the school kids to see if they needed any money, but in the back of my mind I wondered, ‘They’re always government-aided.’ I thought there wouldn’t be any need for donations,” she said.

Moorthy learned that most parents must supply some money for the students’ lunches, and that governmental aid does not cover the whole bill. Hearing that some students had to forego meals or eat alternate meals because they were too far in debt has prompted many people in town to donate to the fund. Moorthy vowed that she would donate proceeds from one meal a month to the school until its lunch fund was out of the hole.

The last Friday in February was the first time proceeds from Moorthy’s “Divine Star” lunches went to the school’s Help Us Stop Hunger (HUSH) fund. She said about 50 people usually come to her lunches, but on that day, 130 people came out to support the students. After subtracting her expenses, Moorthy generated $1,319, all of which went to the HUSH fund.

The next lunch to benefit the school meal program will be March 23. Reservations are required by March 22.

School food service director Stephanie Hawkins said the deficit in the school’s meal program had ballooned to $36,000 in July.

Hawkins spoke about the school’s predicament to The Hunger Dialogue, a local group dedicated to addressing food insecurity in Jefferson County. Deborah Pogel was touched by Hawkins’s talk and relayed the information to Moorthy, who realized this was the charity she wanted to put all her energy behind.

Hawkins said the deficit balance has been falling steadily in the past eight months and is now down to $11,500. With the help of Moorthy and other donors, Hawkins is hopeful it will soon be in the black.

The money from Moorthy’s lunches will be split between paying off the deficit balance and paying for the school’s summer lunch program. Hawkins said the summer lunch program ran at a loss last year because the district undertook extra expenses in delivering the meals to various locations around town.

Hawkins said that, thanks to Moorthy’s donation in February along with a few others, the district was able to help 85 students pay off part of their debt.

In addition to Moorthy donating the proceeds from her lunches, Everybody’s and Radiance Dairy donate food to the lunches, too. Christine Engwall, Moorthy’s colleague at JCHC, baked about a dozen desserts and donated them to the lunches for last month’s fundraiser. Hawkins said school lunch staff have agreed to donate desserts to the March 23 fundraiser from their own kitchens. They’ll even get to attend because there’s no school that day.

“They really wanted to go to the first fundraiser, but they had to work,” Hawkins said about the school cooks.



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