I-Team Report: Invisible Dad - WNEM TV 5

I-Team Report: Invisible Dad

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(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)

He wants to make sure no child goes hungry at school or is shamed by having lunch taken away in front of everyone for lack of money.

That's why he started a program that discreetly provides help for students who come up short in the lunch line.

"It opens them up to bullying. Ya know, it opens them up to their own shame," said Tony Casanova, Invisible Dad.

Casanova calls himself the original "Invisible Dad." That term may sound odd to you, but it's the name of a program meant to make sure no child goes hungry in school. The program started at Keith Elementary School in West Bloomfield.

Growing up in Miami, Florida, Casanova said there were many times he wasn't able to eat lunch because his mother couldn't afford it.

"I thought it was just the way that my mother and I made ends meet and that's how we did it," Casanova said.

Fast forward to 2016 when Casanova was having dinner with his own daughter. He learned hunger is still widespread in school with kids often singled out at the lunch line when their accounts run dry.

"My daughter failed to mention that she had sat at lunch with somebody she sits with all the time. So I was like well where is so-and-so and she said today we didn't have lunch together because she got cheese and crackers," Casanova said.

Marci Augenstein, principal at Keith Elementary School, said students who had insufficient funds in their lunch accounts were given cheese and crackers.

"We never let kids go hungry, but it wasn't the normal lunch if you will," Augenstein said.

The Invisible Dad lunch program is hoping to put a stop to that practice.

"It's not having your lunch taken away from you and given something else to fill the void, it's having your lunch taken away from you in front of your friends," Casanova said.

As the I-Team discovered, Casanova created this program where anyone can donate money to cover the cost of a child's lunch. He said this allows a seamless transition of payment. If the child's account doesn't have enough money, the Invisible Dad account is simply scanned instead so the child never even knows.

"Taking away that burden from the younger children and making sure that they don't have to come to school and worry," Augenstein said.

Augenstein said the program has made all the difference. Augenstein is not only the principal at the school, but she's also a parent. She said the program, although in just its second year, has totally transformed lunch-time for every student.

"I have the ability to pay for my kids lunch, but I'll be honest I'm a busy, working mom and sometimes I forget to put money in my kid's lunch account. And he said, no, for any child regardless of their circumstance or situation," Augenstein said.

Each lunch at the school costs $2.75. Casanova said he covered that cost at least 1,000 times the past year and a half. He said he doesn't want credit for doing it, he wants to help eliminate the problem entirely.

"It's just something that should be done, right? And anybody can be an Invisible Dad that cares about kids getting their lunch at school," Casanova said.

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