MCPS and DARCARS Automotive representatives pose for a picture on Tuesday at MCPS central offices in Rockville. Credit: By Caitlynn Peetz

The Montgomery County Public Schools’ Dine with Dignity program received two $30,000 donations from local businesses to offset student lunch debt, MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith announced at a press conference Tuesday.

The donations came from Wheaton-based Chuck Levin’s Washington Music Center and Silver Spring-based DARCARS Automotive Group.

“These donations help make sure lunch is a safe zone where kids can focus on relationships and not focus on what they’re going to eat,” said Yolanda Pruitt, executive director of the MCPS Educational Foundation.

The donations were given to the district’s Dine with Dignity program, overseen by the Educational Foundation. The program was established in 2018 to provide meals to students with no money in their lunch account.

The school district on Nov. 1, 2018, suspended its practice of distributing “alternative meals” — typically a cold sandwich — to students who owed at least $10 for past lunches.

Now, the Dine with Dignity program lets those students receive a typical hot lunch and helps parents apply for free and reduced-priced meals.

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The donations will offset the costs of hot meals, paid for by MCPS, for students with no money in their lunch account.

Abbe Levin, part of the Chuck Levin’s management team, said the donation was “kind of a no-brainer.”

“You have to look after the children if you want to look out for the future,” Levin, an MCPS graduate, said Tuesday. “If they don’t have food to eat or are going to be shamed because they’re going to eat a different meal because they haven’t got the money, when you talk about removing divisions … something as simple as this could do that.”

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Jamie Darvish, chief operating officer for DARCARS, said he, too, is an MCPS graduate, making the donation personal.

He said the company is “honored to do our part” to help students.

“Everyone should strive for excellence and everyone can achieve excellence, but you can’t do it if you’re hungry,” Darvish said.

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Pruitt said that the Dine with Dignity program has received about $90,000 in donations this school year, which will provide meals to hundreds of students.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com