JOHNSTON, Iowa - It was something like a New Year's Miracle - an anonymous donor wiping clean the negative lunch account balances for every elementary student in the district.
"Seeing an act like that come forward, and knowing it affected almost 150 students is something we haven't experienced here in this district," said Johnston Community School District communications director, Laura Sprague.
The donation, totaling $13,250, helped clear the debts for nearly 150 students district-wide. School district leaders call it a surprise, but something much needed.
"We don't get anonymous donations a lot. We have donations come in occasionally, but to have a donation of this size from an anonymous person, and so specific in what it wanted to target - it truly meets a need that often goes unspoken," she said.
It's an unspoken need for many in the district.
"We do have many students that would have accounts that have exceeded a certain level, that we would have concerns about," said Timber Ridge Elementary School counselor, Jan Maronn. "And look closer, you know, what are the needs that that family has? And what can we do as a school to provide for their needs?"
Although even a sizeable debt wouldn't keep the school from feeding a child, it does clear away a major stressor for families suffering from food insecurity at home.
"The child is still able to eat, we do not turn anyone away from having food, as we know this may be their best source for nutritious food during the day," Sprague said.
"We do know that one out of five students come from food insecure homes," said Maronn. "Not necessarily here in Johnston, but definitely in our area. And so, it's important to understand that we're not any different than anyone else, and we have families that have that need."
It's an act of kindness the district says it will never forget.
"When we think of the term, 'Pay it Forward,' this act is an incredible example of that," Sprague said. "And if they only knew how powerful it was to help kids have full bellies."
Full bellies for the kids, and full hearts for the school district.