Iranian-born entrepreneur clears Oakland students’ lunch debt

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A refugee who fled Iran has donated enough money to cover the unpaid lunch debt of hundreds of students in the Oakland Unified School District.

Through his company, A planet in Walnut Creek, CEO Payam Zamani donated $15,600 to the District Nutrition Services Department.

His contribution, announced on Christmas Eve, now helps eliminate the fall semester meal debt for students who qualify for discounted meals.

“It was important for all of us…to do our small part to help break down one of the barriers children face in getting an education – the unnecessary financial stress associated with one of the most basic needs, food,” Zamani said. “If we really cared, we wouldn’t let this happen in our own backyard.”

Zamani told KTVU on Tuesday that he remembers being poor all too well when he first immigrated to the United States in 1988, fleeing religious persecution in Iran.

He is a member of the Baha’i faith and this religious group is not allowed to attend university in Iran. Zamani enrolled in college and earned a bachelor of science degree in environmental toxicology from the University of California, Davis. He remembers that as a college student, all he had was about $20 a week, which he spent on potatoes. He doesn’t want to forget his past. So now, in addition to being a serial entrepreneur from a company that funds tech start-ups, Zamani and his wife are also philanthropists and civil rights supporters.

School cafeteria worker quits after lunch shaming

A child eats lunch at an Oakland public school.

The donation comes at a time when lunch debt and “lunch shame” linger in pockets across the country. For example, a school district employee in Alabama printed “I need lunch money” on the arm of a child who couldn’t pay. And a controversial Rhode Island school board decision once considered giving kids with unpaid debt sunflower seed sandwiches for lunch instead of hot meals, saying the district owed tens of thousands of dollars in cash for lunch on top of a huge budget deficit.

SB 265, which was originally introduced by California State Senator Robert Hertzberg, requires all public school students to have a “state reimbursable” meal provided by the school “even if their parent or guardian has unpaid meal expenses”.

California governor signs ban on ‘lunch shaming’

This fall, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a law that says all students are entitled to a school lunch, whether or not they have the funds to pay. Newsom touted the kind act of Napa third-grade student Ryan Kyote, who used his saved allowance to pay off his classmates’ outstanding debts after seeing a female student being forced to return his hot lunch. because his family had not paid in full.

“Our students depend on school meals every day,” Irene Reynolds, executive director of nutrition services, said in a statement. “Even though they don’t have the resources to pay them and we don’t turn away any students.”

Elementary student uses his allowance money to pay off his lunch debt

SB 265, which was originally introduced by California State Senator Robert Hertzberg, requires all public school students to have a “state reimbursable” meal provided by the school “even if their parent or guardian has unpaid meal expenses”. Act amends the Preventing Hunger and Treating Children Fairly Act of 2017 by requiring school districts, charter schools and education agencies to invalidate policies that require officials to provide alternative meals to students whose tuition fees are unpaid.

In Oakland, approximately 73% of all students are eligible for free and reduced-price meals. Last school year, the district served nearly 10,000 breakfasts and more than 18,000 lunches each day. A month before the governor signed the bill, OUSD had already decided to provide free lunches at 71 school sites, without requiring students to fill out meal request forms. Normally, lunches cost between $3 and $3.60.

Thousands of Oakland children will be without meals due to budget cuts

And while OUSD also has budget issues, officials say it’s crucial that children eat nutritious meals during the day.

“Our students depend on school meals every day,” Irene Reynolds, executive director of nutrition services, said in a statement. “Even though they don’t have the resources to pay them and we don’t turn away any students.”

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