Who The Folk?! Jeremy Kalin and Geri Katz

As we’re in the holiday season, more and more, people are looking to do good and help people. Geri Katz and Jeremy Kalin helped kickstart a program to help, potentially, thousands of Minneapolis Public Schools students by paying off delinquent lunch accounts. Kalin and Katz, whose respective children are students at Burroughs Elementary School, estimates that more than 4,000 accounts with are unpaid at amount of nearly $160,000.

The two brought elements from their past and present work; Katz works for the Minnesota Nurses Association on health care reform and understands that school lunch issues pose a public health concern. Kalin is a former state legislator who has heard from teachers first-hand about the struggles their students have not having enough food at home. Learn all about the program they’ve helped publicize in this week’s Who The Folk?!

How did this program get started?

GK: It’s not really a program. It was sort of an accident.

How so?

GK: I saw a suggestion on Twitter. I sent an email to Minneapolis Public Schools, put it on Facebook and then it got shared and shared. And it took off. I don’t know much about the person that originally posted it. A Lot of people are looking for small ways to take care of each other. It seems like there is a desire to do that around the holidays. Doing one small thing is helpful.

JK: My wife and I always do year-end giving, so we decided to donate $1 for every Facebook share or retweet we got up to $250. We’re at more than 1,000 shares on Facebook, just from the single post, and another 17,000 twitter impression just on what we did directly (Editor’s note: Those numbers are as of Sunday night, Dec. 11).

How much has been raised so far?

JK: Within 18 hours of the FB post, the district had received more than $13,000. We’ve had 9,000 website visitors in three days. We’ll know [later today] after a lot of the weekend push on the total impact, but I know we got off to a great start. Having worked in government for a while, we had to ask them how they want to receive the money. I worked with my team at work to see how fast we could get a website up. The district staff were amazing. Sometimes you get administrators who have their own stuff going on. They embraced it and let us know how to work with Achieve Minneapolis (a 501c3 not-for-profit charity, which has agreed to dedicate tax-deductible contributions to Minneapolis Public Schools Nutrition Services – School Lunch fund). [Editor’s note: Since the Minneapolis initiative started, St. Paul Public Schools started one as well).

Were you surprised at the amount of people with unpaid lunch accounts?

GK: Not really. knowing the percentage of kids on free and reduce price lunch (FRP) and the people just above the threshold. It didn’t surprise me. I believe the districts are on the hook. They just have to absorb those costs.

JK: There’s no singular reason why a kid ends up with an unpaid account. A lot qualify for FRP but families don’t know yet how to apply. Don’t know they can have this bill paid off once they qualify. Second, a bunch of families that are truly the working poor and make a little too much to qualify for FRP. The third group, because of the uncertainty of their immigration status, don’t want to get involved in a Federal program. Who knows the full story, but there are people living in the shadows. Regardless of your politics, we have an obligation to help kids.

Are you surprised this movement has taken off?

JK: I think there’s something pretty powerful, and from a Jewish values as well. Not just Tikkun Olam or shared values of we are brother’s or sister’s keeper. I see this from being on the board of JFCS that there are people of need that we don’t talk about. Largely, we are a pretty stable and privileged community. There’s an opportunity to use our skills and positions to help the next generation of people.

GK: I pick up my kid every day at school and have daily interaction. His school is in one of the more affluent demographics in the city and know other schools don’t have the resources. The inequality has always concerned me. I just wanted to do something for kids in the schools that don’t have what my kids have. It’s kind of a public health issue if we have wide swaths of the community that aren’t getting access or are food insecure.

JK: Burroughs could just as well be in Edina or Wayzata. But we’re in Minneapolis and we have to lift up our One Minneapolis. Kids are 25 times more likely on the North side to have unpaid lunch accounts. We want people to give regardless of the ZIP code they’re in. The fate of our city and region relies on all kids having healthy brains so they can learn.

Click here to nominate your favorite TC Jew to be featured on our weekly Who the Folk?! series!