Fundraiser erases school-lunch debt for students at three Haverhill schoolsBy JOHN KOZIOL
Union Leader Correspondent
January 03. 2018 11:59PM
NORTH HAVERHILL — Thanks to the generosity of a local man and people across the Connecticut River in Vermont, more than 100 students in three Haverhill public schools are starting 2018 with debt-free lunch accounts.
On Tuesday afternoon, Isidro Rodriguez, 27, presented checks totaling $2,041, and pledged to return with a check for $600 more, to Laurie Melanson, the superintendent of School Administrative Unit 23.
Based in North Haverhill, SAU 23 comprises eight schools in the towns of Piermont, Warren, Bath and in Haverhill, including Woodsville Elementary, Haverhill Cooperative Middle School, and Rodriguez’s alma mater, Woodsville High, from which he graduated in 2008.
Rodriguez’s donation on Tuesday will cover the entirety of the amount due since last September at the elementary and middle schools, which as of yesterday, was $1,934.16, with the balance being applied to the high-school lunch deficit.
A self-taught photographer, social-media marketer and web designer with a culinary background, Rodriguez, whose Urban Nature Photography business has garnered major praise on its Facebook page, was poised to donate his services and time during a Dec. 9 Parent Teacher Organization fundraiser at Woodsville Elementary.
The goal of the “Breakfast with Santa” fundraiser was to start a school-lunch scholarship program with a modest $250.
But when Rodriguez inquired about the deficits at Woodsville Elementary and his town’s two other general enrollment schools, he learned that the cumulative amount would dwarf the scholarship. He then took it upon himself to launch his own fundraiser, Food4Kids, that featured the sale of 1,170 raffle tickets; had online drawings for a variety of prizes and, he said, seems to be ongoing.
“We’re meant to be altruistic and kind,” said Rodriguez, whose nephew is an SAU 23 student and multiple raffle ticket buyer.
Although the district encourages all parents to fill out eligibility applications for free- or reduced-price lunches, not all of them do, said Melanson.
That said, “No child goes without lunch,” she added.
Melanson noted that 45 percent of the 203 students at Woodsville Elementary are eligible for free or reduced lunches, 40 percent for the former; while at the middle school, 46 percent of the 249 students were eligible for either, 37 percent of them for free lunches and at the high school, 30 percent of the 202 students were eligible for the two programs.
Through her 27 years as an educator and administrator, Melanson has never seen anyone do what Rodriguez has done.
“It’s endearing,” she said, “and it makes me believe in young people” and the sense of community that Rodriguez wants to create.
Rodriguez said he is exploring grant opportunities that would let him bring recycling/composting programs to SAU 23 and is also working on how to educate students about where their food comes from and the importance of not wasting it.
“It’s not about me, it’s about we,” said Rodriguez. “It’s not where you live, it’s how you live.”