Gift of generosity: North’s Bull Dog Pantry pays off BCSC lunch debt

COLUMBUS — With the holiday season comes a gift that hundreds of Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. families will benefit from.

On Wednesday, Columbus North High School’s Bull Dog Pantry gifted BCSC Food Services a check totaling more than $1,000 to be dispersed to pay off the debts on all student lunch accounts across the district.

Over two school years, Columbus North art teacher Tonya Cruser has served lunch duty in the high school’s cafeteria. Among her responsibilities, Cruser watches to make sure students pay for their food as they move through the lunch line.

Occasionally, she’ll see a student who doesn’t have money in their account to purchase lunch.

BCSC students can charge their accounts for up to three days after they reach a zero balance. After the three days, they receive an emergency meal, which consists of a peanut butter sandwich, vegetable and milk until charged lunches have been paid in full, said Nancy Millspaugh, BCSC director of food service.

Cruser recalled seeing viral social media posts about students getting their food taken away at schools because their lunch accounts reached a negative balance.

“I can’t stand the thought of that,” Cruser said.

Cruser is the coordinator of the Bull Dog Pantry at Columbus North, which provides free groceries to hundreds of Bartholomew County families each year through a partnership between BCSC and Gleaners Food Bank.

In 2013, Gleaners approached the corporation about setting up food pantries in its local high schools for students and families who may need assistance. For the last six years, teachers from both high schools have coordinated distribution days at the Columbus East Pantry and Bull Dog Pantry multiple times throughout the school year.

Cruser presented her idea of paying off BCSC lunch debts to the Columbus North administration in September, only as a possibility.

“At that time we had no idea what that dollar amount would add up to,” said David Clark, Columbus North principal. “But Tonya has a teacher’s heart and teachers care about our youth, second only to parents. The fact that she was able to accomplish this is a testament to her grit and persistence.”

Currently, BCSC Food Services has a donation fund specifically dedicated to paying off any lunch debt at the end of each semester. The fund was created about two years ago, Millspaugh said, because federal guidelines prohibit any school corporation from entering a negative balance.

The Bull Dog Pantry has held several fundraisers throughout the fall semester to collect donations to deplete the lunch debt, including the Bull Dog Holiday Market where the public could shop dozens of vendor booths, purchase food, make crafts and have their picture taken with Santa. The pantry raised about $5,000 from that event alone, Cruser said.

A check was delivered to the BCSC Food Service District Office Wednesday.

“It’s overwhelming how generous people are,” Millspaugh said upon receiving the donation. “I think we have a lot of children in need. This is just another example of people in this community looking out for other community members.”

Clark said the pantry’s gift to BCSC is just another example of how great the Columbus community is.

“As an educational institution, we find ourselves as perhaps the last standing institution and although this type of kindness and caring are not a part of the IDOE state standards, they are an essential part of and are reflected in communities that take care of each other,” Clark said. “Tonya has led the way in showing us that service to others is a key, if not the key, to happiness for all.”

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The Columbus East Pantry and Bull Dog Pantry accept both monetary and physical donations, including food, toiletries and other household items that a family may need.

To donate to the Columbus East Pantry, contact Greg Lewis at [email protected] or drop off donations at the Columbus East front office.

To donate to the Bull Dog Pantry, visit or drop off donations at the Columbus North front office.

BCSC Food Services also accepts donations to its negative lunch account balance fund. Donations can be delivered or mailed to:

BCSC Food Services

1260 N. Marr Road

Columbus, IN 47201

Checks should be made out to BCSC Food Services with "negative lunch balance account" in the memo line.

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Both high school pantries accept community volunteers.

To volunteer at the Columbus East Pantry, contact Greg Lewis at [email protected].

To volunteer at the Bull Dog Pantry, visit or contact Tonya Cruser at [email protected].