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A Quarter A Tray Brings Kindness To Stay

, , , , , , , , | Learning | September 14, 2021

In 1998, I was in my junior year of high school. School lunches were broken up into four periods, each lasting thirty minutes, to accommodate the nearly 1,600 students in my school.

Some kids brought lunch, and for those of us that purchased lunch at school, we were given trays to carry our food on. The use of a tray incurred a $0.25 deposit in your total. If you purchased $5.00 worth of food, you’d actually be charged $5.25 with that extra 25 cents for the tray. The idea here was to encourage students to clean up after themselves, bus their garbage to a nearby trash can, and then return the tray to the Quarter Lady. I don’t know if any of us actually knew her real name; she was just referred to as the Quarter Lady because she’d take the empty and clean tray — couldn’t have gobs of food stuck to it or garbage on it — and then hand you a quarter for returning the tray to her.

During the lunch period, some students either didn’t have much money or found it was easy to earn a few extra bucks by going from table to table and offering to return people’s trays and clearing their garbage for them. Most other students didn’t mind if they ran trays back to earn a few bucks to buy lunch.

A few weeks into the school year, [Student], who normally came by to ask for trays from time to time, started asking everyone if he could bus their trays. We didn’t know why. No one really made any noise about the situation he was trying to help out with, not at least until a few days later.

Word had been getting around that the Quarter Lady — an older lady, maybe in her late sixties or early seventies — had been diagnosed with some sort of cancer and students had been wondering why we hadn’t seen her at the tray return location to hand out quarters.

It seems that [Student] had been running all the trays he could so he could start a donation for the Quarter Lady. All the quarters he gathered, he would give back to the other lunch staff. Pretty soon, all the students were donating their quarters and other change in a donation bin set up at the tray return.

For the life of me, I cannot remember what happened with the Quarter Lady, but I do remember that the students raised almost $15,000 by the end of the school year.

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