SOUTH MILWAUKEE - Two slices of bread and a Kraft single.
That’s how Steven Broeker described what younger students get for lunch if their family can’t afford to pay. He said the kids aren’t turned away, but they're not given much.
He hopes to change that.
And as he found out in less than 24 hours, he’s not alone.
Broeker, a South Milwaukee High School alumni who graduated in 2008, started a GoFundMe to raise money to help students who have financial challenges in the South Milwaukee School District to buy a lunch. He said he has had the dream to do this for some time.
Initially, the goal was to just help at the high school, but, with his fundraiser booming, Broeker said he hopes to help the elementary and middle schools as well.
“I’m excited to see where it’s going to go and what it’s going to become,” he said.
Initially, Broeker said he was just going to start a special account with his own money and help a few kids. He ended up reaching out to Molly Gallegos, a social worker within the district, who noted that many could benefit from such assistance.
“I often hear the real-life stories from students, parents, and staff of who are in need and why,” Gallegos said.
School meals cost $1.15 for breakfast, $2.10 for lunch at the elementary level, and $2.50 in the middle and high school level, she said. Families that meet federal guidelines for the reduced lunch program pay nothing for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch, she said.
Currently, just under 50 percent of families qualify for the program.
Broeker spoke with a number of friends as well as colleagues at Palermo’s Pizza, where he works as a sales representative. Many of them were interested in donating, he said, so he set up the GoFundMe.
Not sure where to set the goal, Broeker chose the $1,000 mark. It was reached in less than 24 hours, a fact which brought Broeker practically to tears.
One donation that stood out to him was a single mom. He figured the fund struck a chord with her, but at the same time, Broeker wondered how much she could use that money herself.
Additionally, two days into the campaign, Broeker said he was contacted by South Milwaukee Mayor Erik Brooks, who asked how he could help.
“I’d like to thank them (donors) honestly from the bottom of my heart,” he said. “I was the person who could have used help at a young age. I was lucky for the community of people I knew. They gave me a life I couldn’t have had when I was younger.”
Broeker attributed much of the success to the word being spread through Facebook. As of March 13, the GoFundMe page had been shared 548 times with 79 donors in 16 days.
Currently, the campaign sits at over $3,500 with a new $5,000 goal.
If it keeps growing, Broeker he said he also wants to reach students in other local school districts, including those in Cudahy, Franklin, Oak Creek and St. Francis.
While some funds have already gone out to help students with very positive results, the final method of distributing the money is still being finalized, Broeker said.
One of his goals when it comes to distributing the money is to make sure it’s a secret from the students who is getting help and who isn’t.
“I don’t want anyone to get singled out,” Broeker said, adding he saw first-hand how kids can be cruel sometimes.
Gallegos said the need is usually discovered by a teacher, social worker, counselor or administrator that notices a student isn’t eating, they’re unusually sleepy, their behavior and grades have changed, or the negative balance in their account grows.
She said students are often reluctant to tell someone.
“Students sometimes just need a little money in their account to get them through a difficult time – a week, a month,” Gallegos said. “This is what the GoFundMe and Steven’s donation is allowing.”
Part of what gave him that dream is his desire to give back.
Broeker, who hasn’t lost touch with his high school over the years and coached football for the sixth grade after an old coach recommended him, recalled that while he was in school, his grandmother and a few friends helped him out quite a bit when his family was facing some tough times.
His father was a tool-and-die maker and his job got hit with layoffs and buyouts quite often. He said the tough times really started during middle school and into high school. The family lost their home at one point.
“It was really just a lot growing up,” he said.
Broeker said the family had saved up for him and his sister to attend college, but the family ended up having to live off of those savings for a time.
Broeker described the hirings and layoffs his father and the family endured as a wave, saying they would get hit, then things would improve but they’d be waiting to get hit again.
One person who really helped was his grandmother, Patricia Ziebart. His good friend Elias Chapa also played a major role, he said.
“They helped out so, so much,” Broeker said. “Those people were the main reason why I started something like this. I wanted to be like them.”
Broeker is considering a number of names for his fund, one being the “PZ Foundation” in honor of his grandmother. Another is the “PBC Foundation” which is a combination of his grandmother’s name, his name, and the Chapa family.
To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/lunches-for-students.