BURLINGTON, IOWA - When Jerry Fenton stumbled across a story online about a young boy who brought two lunches to school so he could give one to a friend, Fenton thought: That's something nice that I could do, too.
"And I decided to take it a step further," the Burlington man said.
On Tuesday, he wrote a $700 check to the Burlington Community School District for school lunches for students at Grimes Elementary School, where he attended as a child.
Most of the money will go to overdue lunch bills from children who haven't been able to pay for lunch but are fed because the school doesn't want them to go hungry, Fenton said. That amount was more than $400. The rest of the donation is intended for future overdue lunch bills at Grimes Elementary, he said.
A gift like this is "extremely rare," said Alan Mehaffy, food service director for the Burlington school district.
The only other similar donation he could remember was when a school food service employee had died and asked for memorial donations to go toward students' overdue lunch bills, he said.
"It made a big impact," Mehaffy said of Fenton's donation. "It was a very generous offer."
Unpaid lunch bills are not a severe problem at Burlington schools, Mehaffy said. The $400-something balance that Fenton's donation paid off was higher than normal, he said.
But lunch bills can sometimes cause tension between parents and teachers, as the school sends home reminders about overdue bills to parents, he said. Fenton's donation should alleviate that tension, he said.
The children who will benefit will likely never know about Fenton's gift, unless their parents tell them about it, Mehaffy said.
Fenton wrote about the donation on his Facebook page, and the post has since been shared hundreds of times with more than 1,000 likes.
Fenton didn't intend to attract any attention. "It struck me as something nice to do. I didn't do it for any reason other than for myself," he said.
But seeing all of the reactions to his story online has made him hope that it will inspire people to do something kind or generous for others.
"I don't want to tell people what to do ... but it's always nice when people do nice things," he said.
The story that inspired Fenton's good deed is about Josette Duran, a mom in Albuquerque, N.M., whose son had asked her if he could have two lunches to bring to school so he could give one to a friend. Duran soon learned that her son's friend's mom had recently lost her job and couldn't afford to pay his lunch bills.
The story has been shared by several news outlets and blogs, and Fenton stumbled across it on Facebook, he said.
Fenton, who owns the Arrowhead Motel in Burlington, said he decided to take that story a step further by donating lunch money to many children at Grimes Elementary.
He said he wonders what good deeds his Facebook post could inspire.
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