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Brewery Raising Money to Pay School Lunch Debt in Sioux Falls; Gov. Walz Signs Bill to Pay for All Minnesota School Meals

Maybe Governor Walz will hop the border and come have a beer at Severance Brewing….

Even with federal support for low-charge/no-charge meals for low-income K-12 students, there are still lots of South Dakota families on the income borderline who struggle to pay for their kids meals at school. Scott Heckel of Severance Brewing Company is working to prevent student hunger through charity:

This Friday starting at 4:40 p.m. we are going to have Taverns and Tots in here. They are going to be serving a school lunch-inspired meal and then giving ten percent of all their proceeds to the cause. We are also going from 4:40 to 7:30 p.m. giving a dollar per pint. We have music in here and then Ben from Causal Campfire will be setting up his shop as well,” said Scott Heckel, Severance Brewing Co. owner.

…“There’s over $100,000 in debt right now for Sioux Falls public schools, and when we heard they were trying to put an initiative together to try and clear all of that out and then create a sustainable way for kids to actually continue to get meals at school, we knew that was something we wanted to hop on board,” said Heckel.

In a statement to Dakota News Now, the Sioux Falls School District said, “Healthy meals are important to a student’s academic success. Income-eligible families can apply for free or reduced-priced meals. However, there are always children who barely miss the income eligibility and whose families are still struggling. We are blessed to live in a community that recognizes this need and steps up to fulfill it” [Baylee Peterson, “Sioux Falls Businesses Raise Funds to Settle Student Lunch Debt,” KSFY, 2023.03.20].

Minnesotans, too, are blessed to live in a community that recognizes the need for students to eat and steps up to fill their tummies. Governor Tim Walz signed a bill last Friday to have the state pick up the tab for every school meal starting this fall:

During the signing ceremony, Walz told Minnesota parents this will ease some of the stress on them.

“If you’re looking for good news, this was certainly the place to be,” said Walz.  “I’m honored and I do think this is one piece of that puzzle in reducing both childhood poverty and hunger insecurity.”

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan was also at the ceremony. She said this was the most important thing she’d ever worked on.

…It will cost the state of Minnesota close to $400 million in the first two years and grow in price in the future. It covers the cost of meals, but not of second helpings or of separate a la carte items.

…Darcy Stueber is the director of Nutrition Services for Mankato Area Public Schools and she’s also the Public Policy Chair of the Minnesota School Nutrition Association.

Stueber says her district is seeing just over $80,000 in school lunch debt at this point in the year, so there is a definite need families in her area have for this. She says many of those struggling to pay are single-income households that work hard, don’t make enough to pay for meal programs, but make too much to qualify for free meals. Stueber says providing meals is just another basic necessity for learning

“We don’t charge for Chromebooks and desks and things like that,” she said. “It’s a part of their day and they’re there for so many hours. It just completes that whole learning experience for the child” [Elizabeth Shockman, “Walz Signs Universal School Meals Bill into Minnesota Law,” MPR News, 2023.03.17].

I've never seen Kristi Noem or the people around her look this genuinely joyful when she signs bills. Gov. Tim Walz and students at signing of Minnesota's new universal-school-meals bill, Ben Hovland, MPR, tweeted 2023.03.17.
I’ve never seen Kristi Noem or the people around her look this genuinely joyful when she signs bills. Gov. Tim Walz and students at signing of Minnesota’s new universal-school-meals bill; Ben Hovland, MPR, tweeted 2023.03.17.

Minnesota joins California, Colorado, and Maine in adopting permanent state funding for feeding every child at school. Massachusetts, Nevada, and Vermont are temporarily covering school meal costs. Several other states are considering fully subsidizing school meals, because well-fed kids learn more, stay healthier, and thus cost the state less, earn more money, and pay more taxes when they are older.

South Dakota could have beat Governor Walz to the punch—er, milk and sloppy joes—with rookie Representative Kadyn Wittman’s (D-15/Sioux Falls) House Bill 1221, which would have invested $38.6 million a year to cover every South Dakota student’s school meals, but the Noem Administration made sure that perfectly affordable proposal died in committee.

Hmmm…I appreciate Scott Heckel’s energy and generosity (and again, Severance Brewing Company’s student-lunch-debt fundraiser is this Friday, March 24, after work), but evidence suggests South Dakotans are not blessed to live in a community that recognizes the need to feed children and steps up to fulfill it… or at least not as blessed as Minnesotans.


  1. sx123 2023-03-23 08:09

    Some swill for kids is better than no swill for kids (let’s face it, some of it looks like swill), so hopefully they don’t turn kids away from eating even if no lunch money. Not the kids’ fault.

    I like this brewery’s way of thinking though, trying to plug a hole, an unnecessary hole, and maybe sending a message at the same time.

    How about tax write offs for donating lunch money instead of gym workouts (Thune?)

  2. David Bergan 2023-03-23 08:25

    Hi Cory!

    Aren’t meals for needy children already provided by taxpayers at the federal level? Is there something wrong with the existing free and reduced lunch program?

    Kind regards,

  3. Jenny 2023-03-23 08:30

    You’re right Cory. I’ve never seen kids that excited in Pierre gathered around Noem, and she is the Queen of image. I guess you can’t make kids get excited about signing LGBTQ hate laws.
    In MN, making sure our kids are fed while they learn at school is more important than new prisons and hating on transgenders.

    Meanwhile Pub governors around the country are busy relaxing child labor laws. I’m sure South Dakota will be next.

  4. Jenny 2023-03-23 08:50

    David, a family has to live 130% below the poverty line to qualify for free lunches, which I believe is making below $29000/year. So a family has to be basically destitute to qualify and many low income families are over that line. (Maybe in 1990 making $29000 a year was a living wage).

  5. David Bergan 2023-03-23 09:06

    Hi Jenny!

    This website suggests the threshold is dependent on family size. For a mom and child it would be $36,482.

    Kind regards,

  6. Mark Anderson 2023-03-23 09:45

    Gosh, child poverty was reduced by half during the pandemic. Then, dumb de dumb dumb. Republican’s need to have someone to look down on.

  7. David Bergan 2023-03-23 10:02

    Hi again, Jenny!

    This document from the SD DOE has the clearest table I’ve found and it confirms both your numbers. It says a family of two (Mom and child) would have free lunches under $24k/year and reduced lunches under $34k/year. (What’s not clear is whether the income numbers are before or after taxes… my last link explicitly said before taxes, and if this table is after taxes then they would match quite closely.)

    These numbers seem reasonable to me. And, as you said, they’re tied to the Federal Poverty Guidelines, which means they’re updated each year and not stuck at an arbitrary point in time. What’s wrong with this program?

    Kind regards,

  8. larry kurtz 2023-03-23 10:23

    Stan Adelstein paid off school lunch bills in Rapid City at least once so why can’t some rich christian in Sioux Falls do it?

  9. larry kurtz 2023-03-23 10:26

    Is Dana Dickhouse still alive? Lobby him to do it.

  10. larry kurtz 2023-03-23 10:29

    In February US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the “Healthy Meals Incentives Initiative  to reward schools that go above and beyond in the health of their meals, as well as provide grants to small and rural schools to improve the nutrition in their lunchrooms.” USDA wants to restrict sugar, sodium and non-whole grains in school meals and make other changes to the program.

  11. Mark Anderson 2023-03-23 10:32

    There is nothing like having a beer or three for charity. This could be a roll. Now if they really wanted to raise the bar they’d offer free rides home. Why not a six pack? Pool tables?

  12. grudznick 2023-03-23 10:43

    Even Mr. Stan knows there is no free lunch! Eat up fellows!

  13. All Mammal 2023-03-23 10:54

    Governor Walz is as adorable as the kids. Minnesota is adorable for doing that.

  14. Jenny 2023-03-23 11:09

    David, look up ‘food insecurity’.

  15. Michael 2023-03-23 11:21

    They should build mass greenhouses, chicken coops, and livestock farms throughout the state. Put the prisoners to work maintaining them. They would learn the value of hard work, possibly learn new careers and see a light. All the while they would feed our kids and the prison system. The only problem would be is to find a way for the politicians to profit because that’s sadly the only way to make things work. The governor already approved a new budget for building new prisons, so why not spend that money on something beneficial for many parties.

  16. grudznick 2023-03-23 11:30

    Ms. Jenny, of course they should have to apply. We already give out free lunches to the kids who need them, why on earth would even Minnesoooota give lunches to rich people’s kids? They have to apply, at least, and have an income for the family of under $425,000.

  17. Jenny 2023-03-23 11:50

    Rich kids go the the private schools, ol boy.
    Why are you Pubs always hatin’ and bullying the gays and transgenders in Dakota? That’s mean!

  18. larry kurtz 2023-03-23 11:52

    Republicans want school kids in South Dakota to sell plasma and have their ova maybe even organs harvested to pay for meals.

  19. bearcreekbat 2023-03-23 11:58

    One advantage of providing free lunches to any child in school is how that program might weaken the Country’s caste system, which is based on primarily negative stereotypes about low-income families that can undermine a child’s feelings of self-worth. Obviously making sure kids that live in a low income family get nutrious meals is a top priority. Still, in America’s current caste based social structure maginalizing the children of low income families will have a huge detrimental effect on these innocent kids.

    Indeed, the US economic caste system propagates stereotypes about minorities who happen to be low-income. Consider the observations of Martin Luther King as he experienced India’s economic caste system:

    Then he began to think about the reality of the lives of the people he was fighting for – 20 million people, consigned to the lowest rank in the US for centuries, “still smothering in an airtight cage of poverty,” quarantined in isolated ghettoes, exiled in their own country.

    And he said to himself: “Yes, I am an untouchable, and every negro in the United States of America is an untouchable.” In that moment, he realised that the land of the free had imposed a caste system not unlike the caste system of India, and that he had lived under that system all of his life. It was what lay beneath the forces he was fighting in the US.

    While free school lunches for any and all children will not end the caste system in the US it can make a dent in how youngsters negatively percieve themselves and their peers in school.

  20. grudznick 2023-03-23 15:14

    It’s not like they have to wear a special nametag or go through a special line, Mr. bat from bear creek. Their mommy just goes online and fills out a form and then young Johnny and Bob get their meal money upped automatically every time it gets below the level you need to get a morning pop tart in the cafeteria, Johnny never has to feel bad, and Bob only has to if he’s sneaking peaks at his mommy when she’s online.

  21. Arlo Blundt 2023-03-23 16:15

    I side with the bearcreekbat in this argument….grudznick’s defense of the status quo is weak and non-progressive, and I’m for progress. There is a long standing caste system in South Dakota and the school lunch situation is a good example of how and why it exists. It’s right in there with Lutheran vs. Catholic and everybody against the Mennonites as an inherent weakness in our social fabric.

  22. Richard Schriever 2023-03-23 16:20

    David. how much time do you spend every day housing, caring for, clothing, keeping healthy and feeding a child? Would you agree to taking on that task for a remittance of $36.5k per annum? Or would you find that less to “reasonable”?

  23. Richard Schriever 2023-03-23 16:32

    gurdz, Might I suggest you volunteer to live a life of poverty for 4-5 years (you “conservatives” do believe that being impoverished is a voluntary state after all – don’t you?) then get back to us with your insights. Give away all your property and accumulated wealth and subsist only on what you can earn today. No using “connections” either. Answer some help wanted postings.

  24. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2023-03-23 17:46

    David, I don’t know what the formal or universal definition of “needy” would be, but apparently, there are still plenty of families who are having trouble paying for school lunches. Rather than making schools do this accounting, why not just provide meals for all the kids at the institutions where we require them to spend 6–7 hours a day? Why not save the schools the hassle?

  25. David Bergan 2023-03-23 18:31

    Hi BCB!

    The article you linked was very interesting. It shows how far race relations have come since 1959.

    However, I don’t buy the suggestion that the public schools of South Dakota have a caste system. Public schools (as all societies, even animal societies) have hierarchies and cliques, for sure. Some kids come from richer families, some kids are smarter, some kids are better athletes, some kids are nicer, some kids are more responsible in getting their homework done, some kids are better looking, some kids are more outgoing, some kids are really into Pokemon, some kids have fun parents, some kids have parents who prohibit sugar and screen time, etc. But were it an actual caste system, we would be hearing about the teachers and principals saying that some of the kids were born untouchable due to a debt of karma accrued over past lives. That certainly is not the case.

    Perhaps some children feel self-conscious receiving free lunches. That’s possible. But that’s not reason enough for me to stick taxpayers with every public school lunch. There are many many reasons for kids to feel self-conscious. I was un-athletic and always felt self-conscious in gym class. My grandmother was perpetually self-conscious because she was born with a port wine stain that covered the right half of her face. Some children are self-conscious because their parents are divorced. Others because they’re shy. Others because they wear glasses or braces.

    The best way to combat self-consciousness is with accomplishment, not ‘fixing’ the object of fixation. That’s why I enjoy my role with scholastic chess. I’ve seen kids who are poor or awkward or shy or from troubled families find their self-esteem by getting good at chess. And with that they became better students, better citizens, and better people.

    Kind regards,

  26. Ryan 2023-03-23 21:17

    Kids in school know who gets free lunch, make no mistake. Decades ago I got free lunch and was humiliated weekly along with several other poor bastards as the teacher read aloud lunch balances every Monday morning right after the pledge of allegiance. The methods are more modern now but I guarantee the humiliation is identical. And more practically, it makes no sense to charge for food when iPads and football pads are handed out for free.

  27. Ryan 2023-03-23 21:21

    Notice david doesn’t mind paying for the football jerseys he never wore. But hungry kids…? Shoot. No problem there.

  28. David Bergan 2023-03-23 22:51

    Hi Cory!

    The committee testimony on this issue was that school lunch programs are having trouble getting parents to fill out the federal free and reduced lunch forms. The schools always feed every child, regardless of their lunch balance. But some children are eating for free and the school isn’t getting reimbursed by the federal government because their parents haven’t filled out the form. We didn’t use to have this problem, because schools used to only provide free lunches to children who had turned in a form. That explanation makes more sense to me than “apparently, there are still plenty of families who are having trouble paying for school lunches.”

    If what I heard is correct, then the trouble here is not about hunger or food insecurity or raising money with taxation or beer festivals. South Dakotans are already blessed to live in a community that recognizes the need to feed children. We’ve been providing meals to needy children for decades. We just have to figure out a way to get certain parents to fill out a one-page form before their children eat free lunches.

    Surely, there’s a solution to that problem that costs less than $39,000,000 per year.

    Kind regards,

  29. David Bergan 2023-03-23 23:05

    Hi Ryan,

    I’m sorry to hear about your teachers’ insensitivity. I don’t wish that upon anyone and hope that our schools today handle the matter as discreetly as possible. There should be no reason for a teacher or principal to single out economic differences amongst their students or treat them differently. My kids only know about a couple of free lunch students in their classes, and that was due to the kids themselves mentioning it.

    Football pads and jerseys should be purchased from ticket sales or fundraisers. I’m with you on that. I don’t want hungry kids. I just want the parents to fill out the form.

    Kind regards,

  30. David Bergan 2023-03-23 23:22

    Hi Richard,

    My kids are in 4th and 6th grade, so I don’t spend as much time housing, caring for, clothing, keeping healthy and feeding them as I used to when they were little. I’m probably with them 2 hours each weeknight and usually all day on the weekends. Does that help?

    Are you asking if I could envision quitting my career to be a full-time nanny to one of my children for a salary of $36.5k? Yeah, that doesn’t scare me. I could do that.

    Kind regards,

  31. All Mammal 2023-03-24 00:32

    I’m with you, Michael. Prisons should grow their food. Working the land heals even the most broken people. I know it does. Cultivating their own alms can take some of the burden off society and inmates won’t feel so dependent. The schools should all have a garden too. Science, math, phys ed, teamwork, health, problem solving, pert near pans the entire curriculum for k-12. Sort of like the very successful Foxfire books project for high schoolers that sustains kids’ education to this day.

  32. grudznick 2023-03-24 05:46

    Clearly, Mr. Ryan, you had a teacher that grade who helps demonstrate the indisputability of the SILT.

  33. Ryan 2023-03-24 07:11

    My experiences were not teacher-specific or school-specific. That kind of thing happens everywhere, in one way or another. David, we all wants our neighbors to be responsible parents but some aren’t. Instead of just hoping for things, we could easily just eliminate the problem of tracking forms and verifying income information and responding to changes in income and giving poor kids the “half” lunch they get if they haven’t turned in their forms. Just include lunch in the rest of the free services the school provides. It’s so logical you have to do mental gymnastics just to find a reason not to that isn’t contradictory to how school already operates.

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