There is such a thing as a free lunch

Portland couple donates to clear South Callaway students' lunch debts

Phillip and Karen Baumgarth of Portland stand outside their home for a photo Friday. The Baumgarths recently donated more than $400 to the lunch debt of 57 students in South Callaway R-II Schools.

Phillip and Karen Baumgarth of Portland stand outside their home for a photo Friday. The Baumgarths recently donated more than $400 to the lunch debt of 57 students in South Callaway R-II Schools. Photo by Brittany Ruess.

Phillip Baumgarth, 72, stood inside the South Callaway High School cafeteria, waiting for to be served his meal at the Kingdom Telephone Cooperative annual shareholders meeting in March. As he waited, Baumgarth noticed a sign posted in the cafeteria that troubled him.

The sign described the school’s lunch policy — students with accounts in debt of more than $10 are given a peanut butter sandwich and milk.

Before he could eat his lunch that day, Baumgarth said he made up his mind about giving a donation to South Callaway.

“I just hate to see a kid go without eating," Baumgarth said.

Phillip and Karen Baumgarth donated more than $400 to clear the lunch debt of 57 students district wide, and whatever money is left over will go toward “hardship” situations for the next school year.

The Portland couple wants to ensure South Callaway R-II students don’t go throughout their day with empty stomachs.

Phillip is familiar with the idea of being given a “clean slate.”

When his son was born 35 years ago, the baby was premature and placed in an infant incubator at Cardinal Glennon Hospital in St. Louis for three months — which tallied a substantial hospital bill. After making several payments, a nun told Phillip Baumgarth his debt was taken care of.

Now, he and his wife try to share a similar giving spirit through the recent contribution to South Callaway and regular donations to Cardinal Glennon.

Phillip Baumgarth has three children and Karen Baumgarth has two children from previous marriages. They never had children together, therefore, Phillip said, they have no one to “spoil” together. Instead, they donate to what they can, when they can.

Phillip Baumgarth started his career in the egg and chicken business, handling eggs and hauling chickens, before working for dishwasher companies. In 1987, an injury to his lower back caused Phillip Baumgarth to go on disability services.

For 30 years, Karen Baumgarth held various titles at the company Senac Shoes.

Even with their modest living, Karen Baumgarth said it’s still important for her and her husband to give back.

“I think that if the people’s got it, they should try to help somebody,” Karen Baumgarth said.

South Callaway Superintendent Kevin Hillman sent a letter to parents, notifying them that their children’s accounts were at $0.

“We are in a great district where many people have a desire to help others. South Callaway R-II School District greatly appreciates this generous offer,” Hillman’s letter stated.

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