LACEY — The race is on to completely cover the balance of all unpaid lunch accounts in this Ocean County school district before kids return from winter break on Jan. 6.

As of Christmas Eve, parents in the district were about halfway to their goal of raising $8,800 for the cause, which has been a topic of discussion for the Lacey Township Chatter Facebook group since early 2019.

"We had a student from the high school who posted a picture of his lunch because his lunch balance was over $25," said Carrie Hammer, one of the group's administrators, and a parent of kids in the district. "They're given this cheese sandwich for lunch."

And there's a stigma attached to the alternative meal, Hammer said. If the Facebook group's 18,000 members know what this sandwich means, so do the district's students.

"No child should be in school hungry, and no children should have that stigma and that shame of carrying an alternative lunch back to their table," Hammer said.

Hammer is one of the creators of the GoFundMe campaign, launched December 11, that's handling the bulk of the donations. From day to day, the district's lunch balance fluctuates between $8,000 and $9,000, Hammer said.

They're shooting for a "clean slate" in 2020 — a new year with no lunch balances.

"With as little as an $8 contribution from 1,100 people, our children and our schools can start out January 2020 without the burden of thousands of dollars in unpaid lunch accounts," the campaign reads.

Site visitors are told they can also make donations through a check made out to Lacey Food Services, with "School Lunch Fairy Donation" in the memo section.

"We're just looking to get it paid off," Hammer said.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.