The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Thursday March 30th

Lunch Angels program expands to other states

Three local businessmen are continuing the philanthropic work they started three years ago and are now expanding to other parts of the United States.

Kyle Newman and Walt Winfrey of Craig Motor Co. and Erik Neill, chief instructor and owner of Neill’s Taekwondo and Fitness, started Lunch Angels to pay the past-due balances of student lunch accounts in public schools.

The idea for Lunch Angels sprouted during a business lunch between Newman, Winfrey and Neill, who were inspired by the story of a Texas man launching a similar program.

“I have a lot of friends and family who teach, and they don’t get paid enough to help their students. This is a fantastic way to give back to the neighborhood,” Neill said.

In 2014, the Lunch Angels' first contribution was an $840 payment to Pearsontown Elementary School, where Newman used to go to school.

Some children would rather not eat than take the limited meals that would label them as low-income, according to Newman. This lack of nutrition can adversely affect students' focus and academics in the later parts of the day, making lunch an integral part of the school day.

“By the time we have the (students), they’re tired. We give them a snack so that they’re ready,” Neill said about his taekwondo students.

“Cafeterias were throwing away food because people couldn’t afford to pay for meals, so we showed up to Pearsontown and paid the money,” Newman said. 

Neither Newman nor Neill were willing to say how much they would spend this year, claiming the schools contact them with how much they need.

But Neill said they would like to exceed what they did last year. 

Since starting the nonprofit, Lunch Angels has visited 18 schools in Chapel Hill, Durham and Hillsborough.

The organization’s reputation has continued to spread. 

Patrick Gunn, who knew Newman from high school, decided to help expand Lunch Angels to his home in Atlanta. This was after hearing how Newman and Neill stepped in to pay for $170 stolen from a lockbox in Pearsontown Elementary’s cafeteria during a nighttime robbery this past November.

“When I saw this story, I was interested. I hadn’t talked to Newman since we were in high school together," Gunn said. "I decided then to start it in Georgia, and the rest is history."

So far the Georgia Lunch Angels have donated approximately $200 to Knight Elementary School in Atlanta, helping 40 students.

“I’ve always felt one of the pleasures of life is being a servant. Over the years working in restaurants, I’ve seen the food we waste. And driving around Atlanta, I’ve seen the poverty and homelessness," Gunn said. "I just want people to wake up and not worry about where that next meal is coming."

Gunn is looking to find more corporate sponsors and expand the nonprofit to other parts of Georgia. Not wanting to name these sponsors because they are still in discussion, Gunn did say he hopes to get a beverage company based in Atlanta to help Lunch Angels.

Newman went to Atlanta on Jan. 27 to help Gunn get started. 

“Our cup has truly runneth over," Newman said, referencing how happy he is at the success of Lunch Angels.


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