It all started with Jade Viveiros’ little sister, a third grade class and a boy at lunch.

Viveiros thought it was bittersweet when her sister told her that her third grade class all pitched in parts of their lunch to create one for a boy who couldn’t pay for his own and had decided to go without. Then Viveiros started thinking.

“My little sister is only 8, so I can’t imagine if she didn’t get lunch that day, or if she didn’t eat,” Viveiros, a junior at Timpview High School in Provo, said. “It just touched something in me, I guess.”

Curious, Viveiros called the Provo City School District to ask what the outstanding lunch balance for the district was. Now, she’s trying to raise $17,000 to pay unpaid lunch fees in the district to make sure that no student feels embarrassed about getting a lunch.

About 38% of the 16,000 students in the Provo City School District are considered economically disadvantaged, according to information from the Utah State Board of Education.

At Timpview High School, where Viveiros is trying to raise $900 to clear lunch balances, 32% of students are considered economically disadvantaged.

That percentage varies per school. About 52% of students are considered economically disadvantaged and 2% are homeless at Dixon Middle School, while Franklin Elementary School has 84% of its student body who is considered economically disadvantaged and 4% who are homeless. About 44% of students at Provo High School are considered economically disadvantaged.

Efforts have been made in the county before to clear lunch balances. In 2018, a group of moms in Saratoga Springs contacted schools to pay delinquent lunch accounts around Christmas. After posting in various Facebook pages, an undisclosed company stepped forward to pay off $3,000 in lunch accounts at Vista Heights Middle School in Saratoga Springs and at Vineyard Elementary School.

Viveiros doesn’t expect to raise the full $17,000 but said she wants to do what she can to help others.

She’s received about $300 so far from friends and family members, many of it in $2 increments from high school students. Even if that’s all she raises, Viveiros said that will be 150 students who won’t have to worry about food. She’d like to see the community do more.

“You want to see how you can help, but that’s one day of lunch,” Viveiros said. “What happens tomorrow?”

Viveiros said students can get embarrassed if they know they have a balance and will not try to get a lunch, or will feel guilty for asking their parents for lunch money when they know their family is low income and has bills to pay.

She found that the amount of money owed in lunch accounts varies per school. Viveiros said it’s often less at low-income schools because many students are already on the free or reduced lunch program.

After raising $900 to clear the balance at Timpview, Viveiros plans to expand to other schools.

She shared her idea with Cassidy Baker, a student government teacher at Timpview High School.

“She is kind of one of those quiet powerhouses,” Baker said. “I think a lot of her peers don’t know the kind heart she has because she doesn’t brag about herself very often.”

Viveiros is highly involved at school, participating in student government and cheerleading.

Baker said Viveiros is using social media for good in order to spread the word about hunger in the district.

“There are kids like Jade that really need adults to believe in them and see that their ideas are good, and fuel those ideas,” Baker said.

The two have discussed reaching out to restaurants for help or creating a program where someone can sponsor a child’s lunch throughout a year.

If students don’t get lunch, Baker said she questions how they are able to focus on their academic or social lives.

Viveiros told Baker she’s afraid that she’s just putting a bandage on the issue. Baker points to the school’s annual Sub for Santa campaign, when students raise money for the Christmas assistance program. Students raised about $70,000 this year, which went to help 404 people and 100 families. Baker said that some of the families were inspired to do better in their lives after receiving help, and that Viveiros may never know what the ripple effect of her actions are.

“I think she is seeing the vision that it might not change all these kids’ lives but it might change a few to know that someone out there in the community cared enough about them and their stress,” Baker said.

Viveiros’s efforts, Baker said, will make an immediate difference.

“I think she is going to make some kid go to school and not worry for the first time what he is going to eat,” Baker said.

To contribute, Venmo Viveiros’ account at the handle @jade-viveiros (100% of the proceeds sent to this account go to Provo School District lunch fees), visit Viveiros’s Instagram at the handle @JadeViveiros, or contact the Provo City School District.

Braley Dodson covers health and education for the Daily Herald.

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