Idlewild Baptist Church gives $38,000 to forgive student lunch debt accumulated during COVID-19

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Pictured above: Idlewild Baptist Church

LUTZ—During a time when families are struggling and children are going hungry, students in Hillsborough and Pasco counties will continue to receive school lunches thanks to the generosity of Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz.

The church erased $38,367 in school lunch debt for thousands of juniors and seniors in Hillsborough County and students of all ages in Pasco County. The debts had accumulated during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ken WhittenIdlewild’s senior pastor Ken Whitten said the idea to target lunch debt came after a message series on generosity titled “The Gift” in December. He knew that come January, schools would need to collect the debt owed by parents “who couldn’t afford to send money with their kids for lunch during these hard times,” he said.

“We wanted to demonstrate what the gospel demonstrates for us. God gave us an opportunity to give a visual expression of the verbal message of the gospel. I always ask, ‘if our church were gone tomorrow, would our community miss it?’”

This gift comes at a time of growing food insecurity for underserved families. According to Feeding America,one in four children was hungry at the end of 2020. More recently, a Household Pulse Survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau reported more than one million households with children in Florida did not have enough to eat over the past week.

Feeding Florida, Coronavirus impact
Presented by Feeding Florida. Used with permissions from the Florida Association of Counties. (

Pasco County school superintendent Kurt Browning said the gift “has definitely relieved a huge burden” for families.

“In this time, parents are stressed, working less or even unemployed, all while racking up lunch debt. By providing complete debt forgiveness, students could come back in August with a clean slate. Juniors and seniors won’t have to worry about this affecting their graduation.”

The active Idlewild member values the way this donation brings attention to the gospel of Jesus. “This act puts feet to the gospel. They’re going into the community. This ministry speaks to our communities that there are people out there who care for their needs,” he said.

“Student lunch debt was forgiven, and Christ was glorified because of it.”

“We want to bring glory to the Lord Jesus Christ,” said another church member who donated to the fund. “When COVID began, it was on our heart to benefit the people affected by the pandemic with the hope of ministering to them. We saw the need, and so it seemed like a natural opportunity to share the love of Christ creatively given the circumstances.

“The local church should be sustained by prayer and the forerunner in giving of ourselves to actively love our neighbors by meeting their needs and sharing the gospel with our actions.”

Whitten concurred. “The church exists to give of themselves daily so people can experience the rescuing power of Jesus Christ.”

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