When a photo of a boy being punished at lunch for being late to school went viral, an Oregon community got together to make sure that didn’t happen again.
Hunter Cmelo and his family have a new minivan thanks to the local businesses in Medford, Oregon, and Grants Pass, Oregon, and a local radio host who heard his story.
The 6-year-old arrived late to Lincoln Elementary School last week because his family was having car trouble.
“[The school has] a policy where every three tardies, you get a detention,” Hunter’s mother, Nicole Garloff, 25, of Grants Pass, told ABC News. “Every tardy after that, you get a detention.”
Garloff said they knew Hunter would be getting a detention that day and that he was crying when he went in that morning. But she was shocked when she visited him at lunch that day and learned what his detention was actually like.
“He was at the first table as you walk into the cafeteria, and he was just sitting there with one of those cardboard poster partitions in front of him ... and two or three books next to him,” Garloff said.
She said the school policy was to have students make up work they missed because they were late. Since Hunter was only late by a few minutes, he didn’t have work to make up, so he was told to read a book.
“I was really upset. I went and got my iPad and took a picture of him,” said Garloff. “He wasn’t tardy so many times that he deserved that.
After Garloff posted the photo on her Facebook, the image of her son sitting alone at lunch went viral, coming to the attention of AM 1440 radio personality Bill Meyer. Meyer first heard about the story through his listeners and social media.
“We see a lot of bad news, or we have a lot of problems. So seldomly do we ever get a chance to fix the root of the problem,” Meyer told ABC News. “I saw the school policy as being unjust, but I saw the root of the trouble was car trouble.”
So Meyer reached out to Lisa McClease-Kelly, who owns Kelly’s Automotive, which is located in Medford and in Grants Pass, to see if she would be willing to repair the family’s Dodge Durango.
“The repairs were more than what the car was actually worth,” McClease-Kelly told ABC News. Luckily, a local company, Rapid Repo and Collections, offered to donate a 2001 Chrysler Town and Country van to the family.
Other local businesses pitched in to install a new windshield in the van, two new tires, and McClease-Kelly put about $1,400 of maintenance into it. Hunter’s family was surprised when they came to the shop this week.
“We thought we were going there to be told that our Durango was not going to be fixable at all,” Garloff said. “We were so shocked, it doesn’t seem real. I’m trying to tell Hunter that this doesn’t just happen to you.”
McClease-Kelly will give the family free oil changes for a year, and many others who heard their story donated to give the family a gas card, as well as gift cards to local restaurants.
“This family never asked for the help. All they ever wanted was to change the school policy,” Meyer said. “We saw a way to do a little nudge, and then everyone else came in with their time and generosity.”
The school policy has since been amended, according to the Grants Pass District Superintendent’s office.
“As a result of the concerns raised, the district ended the learning catch-up location at Lincoln Elementary School,” the Grants Pass District said in a statement. “Going forward, a separate, supervised classroom has been designated for necessary catch-up work.”
Garloff said Hunter hasn’t been late since the family got the van and that she is waiting to see if the school’s policy will change.
“We’re so thankful to all the people in our community that have just been so supportive,” Garloff said.