Utah teacher raises $31K on TikTok to cover student lunch debts

Mar 1, 2023, 12:21 AM | Updated: 9:25 am

HEBER CITY, Utah — A Wasatch County middle school teacher is a TikTok sensation. He officially went viral earlier this month and his video, which was really just meant to be silly, garnered nearly $31,000 for student lunches in his district.

Garrett Jones teaches digital literacy to eighth graders at Rocky Mountain Middle School in Heber City. He said a huge portion of the class teaches students about digital safety. When his video raised money for such a great cause, he was thrilled.

He said it all started a couple of months ago. His wife also works at the school and, he said, when the two walk outside for lunch, they often see groups of kids without lunches. When he started digging a little, he realized many kids who have big lunch balances aren’t eating lunch – not because they would be denied, but because they are avoiding the embarrassment of having those balances.

His video was part of a silly trend on the site where users ask people to send them money for random stuff. That includes anything from new shoes to cars to serious stuff like medical bills. His original post said: “If 2673 Venmo’d me $1, I could pay the outstanding lunch fees of every student in my school because the last thing a kid should worry about is how much they owe for meals at a place they’re legally obligated to be.”

That was Jan. 30. The first day, the post got a little bit of interest and people had donated a couple of hundred dollars, which he thought was pretty good. Then things started to really take off. Days later, his post had over 5,000,000 views and the donations poured in. One month later, he raised nearly $31,000.

The number is staggering for this middle school teacher.

This week he meets with the district.

“If there is left over we’re going to see what we can do as far as crediting kids that need it or just kind of being a safety net for those families that really need that help,” Jones said.

The timing couldn’t be better.  On March 1, extended SNAP benefits for low-income Utah families end.

About 156,000 Utahns use food snaps through that program. More than 77% are families with kids. Nearly a quarter are families with older adults or disabled family members and almost half are working families.On average, families will see about $100 less per month, but reductions could be much higher depending on income.Jones is ecstatic his “silly” post raised so much money, but he worries food insecurity isn’t going anywhere and those who are able to help, should.“I think that if people are willing to reach out to their representatives and let them know like, hey, we support this,” Jones said.  “We think this is a good use of our tax dollars, we need to feed kids at school.”

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Utah teacher raises $31K on TikTok to cover student lunch debts