Former Superintendent Sharon Contreras Makes $20,000 Personal Donation to GEA to Pay Off Student Lunch Debt
Guilford County - On December 21st, former Guilford County Schools (GCS) superintendent, Dr. Sharon Contreras made a $20,000 donation to Guilford Education Alliance (GEA) to help pay off GCS student meal debt.
Contreras made the gift in honor of her brother, Detective Erick W. Contreras, a Nassau County, New York police detective who passed away at the age of 53 from cancer. Detective Contreras was a 9/11 responder, and his cancer may have been linked to his recovery work onsite there. He served on the police force for 26 years until his death in January 2021.
During the pandemic, federal waivers allowed all students to eat school meals for free, regardless of their financial status. The federal government ended that program this summer. Students and their families are now required to apply for benefits and GCS has processed nearly 16,000 applications for free and reduced-price meals. A charged meal plan will resume in January 2023. Once students have charged the value of five breakfasts and five lunches, currently a $19.25 value, schools are allowed to serve an alternative meal to students who don’t qualify for the free and reduced lunch program. An alternative meal consists of fruit and/or vegetable choices from that’s day’s menu, milk and/or water and a roll.
Right now, more than 5,700 Guilford County students have meal debt totaling more than $111,000. Contreras’s contribution will go directly to GCS to offset this balance. Other community members are encouraged to donate as well. To make an online donation, click here.
Winston McGregor, president of Guilford Education Alliance (GEA) says this gift doesn’t necessarily surprise her. “Dr. Contreras has always been deeply committed to addressing long-standing inequities that keep children from learning, including food insecurity. It’s hard to learn when you are hungry.”
After serving as GCS superintendent for six years, Contreras announced that she would be leaving Guilford County Schools in January 2021. She is now CEO of The Innovation Project (TIP), a nonprofit organization that includes a cohort of N.C. superintendents. TIP focuses on equity, racial disparities, and challenges of the pandemic. Dr. Whitney Oakley was appointed as the new GCS superintendent in August 2022 after a national search.