This is a story that started when one dad asked a question so many parents ask their children every day: How was school today? What his little girl had to say broke his heart.
It had to do with lunch. She said her friend didn’t sit by her that day.
“Why didn’t you sit with your friend at lunch? She said she got cheese and crackers that day,” said Tony Casanova.
He found out his daughter’s friend’s parents struggled. They didn’t always have enough to buy their daughter lunch. When children didn’t have lunch money, the school gave them cheese and crackers. It had changed the little girl’s routine, so she didn’t sit by his daughter as she usually did.
For Tony, it brought back memories. His single mom didn’t have money for his lunch at times growing up. He remembered being given a snack set aside for such circumstances. He knows how children feel in this situation.
“He is marked as different because he got that different lunch that is handed out,” said Tony.
He started doing research. He found out children who don’t get lunch are more likely to drop out of school. He says he understands why. He got a job to help his family and didn’t feel like he fit in at school.
“It impacts whether or not a child graduates. That is what the statistics absolutely say, and that in a nutshell is my story.”
Tony says the school and government have great programs in place, such as free and reduced lunches, but some kids fall through the cracks.
“Sometimes our parents are prideful or are on that border where they can’t get free and reduced lunch but they still need help,” said Julie Rader, Food Service Supervisor at Walled Lake Consolidated Schools.
“Every kid deserves lunch no matter what,” said Tony.
He stepped up. He asked to start what he calls the Invisible Dad Account. He donated money to buy lunches, so no child goes without a nutritious meal.
“I am not a rich man. I am a janitor. I clean toilets and after cleaning the toilets, I take a little bit of money because it is more important that a child eats a lunch at school than I have a unicorn latte,” said Tony
“If there isn’t money for lunch, it isn’t a child’s problem. It is an adult problem,” said Marcy Augenstein, Ph.D, Keith Elementary School Principal.
Tony has remained invisible, donating behind the scenes, until now. He is sharing his story to inspire others.
The Walled Lake Consolidated Schools is working to put an “Invisible Dad” program in all elementary schools. Tony helps parents across the country do what he did. Go to their child’s school, and volunteer to donate to make sure every child has a lunch.
Tony says he hopes this effort sends a message to children who need help getting lunch.
“You are totally worth it,” he says.