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Ohio church pays off kids’ lunch debt in 10 school districts

Ohio church pays off kids’ lunch debt in 10 school districts

Steve Southards, lead pastor at Salem Church of God in Clayton, Ohio, preaches a sermon. | Salem Church of God

When pastors at a church in Ohio presented a challenge to pay off children’s lunch debt in two school districts, they weren't sure what would happen. They were shocked when the congregation gave enough money to eliminate lunch debt in 10 districts.

"Because of your generosity and because of the abundance and grace of our God, not only did we hit that goal but exceeded it and to date over $40,000 have come in!" Salem Church of God Lead Pastor Steve Southards said on Sunday

The Clayton, Ohio, church had initially reached out to two neighboring school districts — Northmont and Brookville, which had a combined student lunch debt of over $14,000.

Though unsure about the congregation’s ability to give that much, Southards and the church’s Next Steps pastor, Bob Hawker, decided to announce the project during last Sunday’s service. Within four days, members gave $40,000, enough to pay off outstanding lunch debt in 10 school districts.

The church can now eliminate lunch debt also in the districts of Vandalia-Butler, New Lebanon, Milton-Union, Tri-County North, Franklin-Monroe, Troy, Eaton and Kettering.

“One school food service manager was pretty emotional. He said they’ve [had the debt] for so long,” Hawker said. “There was immense gratitude. Our schools spend so much of their time giving and giving, so for them to get to receive is a big deal.”

“As a church, we want to go looking for trouble, and we want to right a wrong,” Lead Pastor Steve Southards was quoted as saying. “We want to show the love of Jesus in really tangible ways that meets the needs of people.”

Northmont Superintendent Tony Thomas said, “It’s nice to be in a community with a place like Salem Church of God, who obviously is doing something right because the fruits of their generosity have really exploded. For us, the focus is the kid. The kid can’t be the victim. I don’t know what the parents’ situations are. But we deal with kids. And nobody wants to see a kid not eat.”

The church now wants to set up an “angel fund” to pay off lunch debts on a regular basis.

On Sunday, Pastor Southards thanked the congregation in his sermon and told them that the media interviewed him but edited out the credit that he gave to Jesus. “But I believe with all my heart that God is the one who moved in our hearts for this deal,” he said, adding that it’s amazing to see what can happen when we are sensitive to God’s voice in our hearts.

Southards also gave credit to Hawker for his “extraordinary” leadership, saying it was his idea to start the program and that he reached out to all the school districts.

“Generosity is contagious,” Southards said, and human beings have a desire to be generous because God is generous. Giving brings joy into the hearts of the givers also, he stressed.

The pastor quoted 2 Corinthians 9:7-8, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”


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