McDONOUGH — What’s the connection between learning to tie a necktie and feeding students a hot lunch?
Keisha Stubbs — she’s the connection.
Two years ago Stubbs’ son was attending a function that required him to wear a necktie, but he didn’t know how to tie one. She was able to call on friends to offer a lesson. When her son said other boys in his class at Luella Middle School didn’t know how either, Stubbs assembled a group of male volunteers to teach them.
It was during that first tie event in the school’s cafeteria Stubbs heard school faculty discussing school lunch debt.
She said that’s when she learned that students who incur a lunch debt are offered an alternative meal of a sandwich, fruit and milk instead of a hot lunch.
Elementary students are allowed to have a debt up to $17.75, $5 in middle school and zero charges in high school.
“They can choose to eat the free lunch or not eat at all,” Stubbs said. “If they choose the free lunch, a social stigma comes along with that.”
Stubbs said she wanted students to have an opportunity to fill their bellies with a hot meal. To give them a choice, she started Tied Together Inc., a nonprofit that pays off the debt and creates a lunch account for students who need a little more help.
In those first few weeks, Stubbs raised $1,210, which paid off the all lunch debt and established the account at Luella Middle. Since then, she’s continued to fund it with donations.
“The account isn’t for kids who forget their lunch money for a day,” she said. “It’s there to help students who are not able to pay off their meal account and those whose families may have stumbled on hard times.”
Stubbs relies on faculty to decide which students are in need.
“They’re in the building. They know our kids,” she said.
Assistant Principal Clarence Callaway said he and his colleagues keep their ears to the ground and pay attention.
“If we see someone we think might need help, we’ll talk with them,” Callaway said. “At that point they usually let their guard down and let us know they need something.”
When a student is identified, those in the cafeteria are alerted to use the Tied Together account.
“We’ve taken away one more barrier to fill them with knowledge,” he said. “We want to make sure school is one of the best and safest places around.”
He said the lunch account has been a blessing, calling Stubbs an angel.
“She has brought a positive energy here that has transcended our school,” Callaway said.
Stubbs started at Luella Middle School two years ago. She’s now working to expand the program to Luella High School and Locust Grove Middle. To do this, she needs the community’s help.
“Any little bit helps,” she said. “It all goes to help our kids.”
Meal prices are $1.15 for breakfast and $2.40 for lunch in grades K-5; $1.15 for breakfast and $2.50 for lunch in grades 6-12; reduced price meals are 30 cents for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch.
Stubbs stays in contact with Callaway and other school officials to monitor the lunch account. When it starts to run low, as long as money is available, she hand delivers a check.
In addition to the meal account, Tied Together collects non-perishable food and toiletries for students.
Stubbs said she wants kids to have access to what they need regularly.
“This is my calling. Everything I’ve done in my life has led me to this,” Stubbs said. “It takes a village to raise our children, and our community is our village.”
For more information, visit the nonprofit’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/tiedtogetherinc/. Donations can be made via Facebook, Cash App at https://cash.app/$TiedTogether or by texting Tied2 to 44321.
To get in touch with Stubbs, she can be reached at 404-829-4794 or firstname.lastname@example.org.