SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Two Sioux Falls men formed a charitable organization several years ago to make sure kids don’t go hungry at school. Now Hungry Hearts is needed more than ever. The school district is in trouble and may be forced to stop feeding some kids. So many students are currently behind on their lunch payments that starting January 17th, the school district will consider refusing meals.

For the past two years, federal Covid-19 money has provided free lunches to kids. But that money has run out. Some parents, used to the free lunches, don’t understand why they must start paying again. For others, inflation has hit hard. This year the Sioux Falls School District has been absorbing the cost making sure kids don’t go hungry. But alarm bells are ringing as unpaid lunch bills climb to more than a hundred thousand dollars.

“We may have to refuse a meal to a child, and nobody in this district wants to be doing that at this point and time,” said Gay Anderson the Child Nutrition Services Coordinator for the Sioux Falls School District.

“The school district is in a tough, tough place,” said Mark Fonder.

“And the school district doesn’t want to do it, but their hands are tied,” said Jesse Severson.

Mark Fonder, Owner of the Barrel House, and Jesse Severson, the executive chef and GM are trying to help.

“The negative balances are going up 25 hundred dollars a day,” said Fonder.

They saw the need and formed Hungry Hearts several years ago. They help kids who don’t qualify for free lunches, or the parent or guardian hasn’t filled out the necessary paperwork.

“At some point, the school has to stop. They can’t keep giving away lunches, so I think we are almost at that point where kids are going to start not getting lunches again. And that’s when we step in and want to help as much as we can, but again we need the community’s support to do that,” said Severson.

“I think right now is a dire need to help these kids out,” said Fonder.

Tom Hanson: Why is this so important to you? Providing school lunches?

“Well, we’re in the food restaurant business. I grew up on reduced lunches. I mean, I know how hard it can be. So I mean these kids, when they go home, we don’t know what their home life is, and you know they probably don’t get a good meal at home either, so the least we can do to help make sure they get a hot lunch at school so they can help learn and have a full stomach,” said Fonder.

Starting in January, the first Monday of every month, 10 percent of sales here at the Barrel House will go to Hungry Hearts. And Fonder is doing even more with his own money.

“We will match any donations up to a hundred thousand dollars,” he said.

Hungry Hearts was formed because Fonder and Severson saw a need. Both say they grew up with little and know the importance of a school lunch.

“I wish the government could do something else to help us out and make sure everyone got a free lunch, but until that happens, I have a feeling Hungry Hearts will be around,” said Fonder.

“Help us get these kids, again our future leaders, our future workforce, help them get the best chance in life that they can have,” said Severson.

Students won’t be refused lunch right away, there is a grace period where they are offered a scaled-back lunch, but eventually, those run out too. According to Fonder and Severson, since it was started, Hungry Heart has raised an estimated three-quarters of a million dollars for school lunches in Sioux Falls. They are hoping for donations of all sizes and some corporate sponsors to join them.

You can send donations to Venmo at: HungryHeartsSF and to PayPal at: hungryhearts17.