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Sarah and Barrett Dabbs, owners of Johnny Roger’s BBQ & Burgers, started the “Cab. Co. Cafe Challenge” as a way to challenge businesses, organizations and individuals to help clear Cabarrus County Schools’ lunch debt.

CONCORD — Barrett and Sarah Dabbs, owners of Johnny Roger’s BBQ & Burgers, have issued a community challenge.

The mission is to wipe out the school lunch debt at all Cabarrus County schools.

The couple, who have a son in kindergarten at Carl A. Furr Elementary School, posted a Facebook video on Valentine’s Day that has since been shared more than 500 times.

The “Cab. Co. Café Challenge” challenges other local businesses help them pay off the $19,000 lunch debt in the Cabarrus County Schools district.

“We had no idea what the debt was, but we jumped head-first into it,” Barrett Dabbs said. “Once we found out about it, it was like, ‘Let’s use this platform and use social media to see if our community can rally around this.’”

Dabbs said he was checking in at Carl A. Furr Elementary School one day when he overheard a mother telling the cafeteria worker that her daughter was upset and embarrassed because she was given a bagged lunch instead of a warm meal like most everyone else.

“I heard her saying: ‘My daughter came home crying,’ and she wants to know why she had her lunch taken. She was hungry,” Dabbs said. “She felt the other kids looking at her. Every sentence was a tug at the heartstrings.”

The Dabbses said CCS students have an $8 unpaid lunch balance, and if they surpass that amount, they will receive a bagged lunch.

“Still, that child is embarrassed,” Sarah Dabbs said. “The goal is, the child gets this alternate lunch, and they tell their parent, and their parent pays that bill, but that’s not necessarily happening. The bill is still kind of sitting there, not being paid.”

If families can’t pay off their balances by the end of the school year, the school district is forced to pay them off with finances that could be better used in other areas.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Johnny Roger’s BBQ & Burgers had acquired about $12,000 in donations and pledges that will be given to Cabarrus County Schools.

“Instead of the school having money for supplies, or whatever, they are putting money toward paying off the school lunch debt,” Barrett Dabbs said.

Their initial challenge will go until the week of March 9, and then any other remaining debt will be capped off with a challenge in May.

The Dabbses said the ultimate goal is to pay off the entire CCS school lunch debt by the end of the year, and then they hope to continue the challenge for years to come.

When Johnny Roger’s BBQ & Burgers opened 22 months ago near the intersection of Concord Parkway and Pitts School Road in Concord, the Dabbses were looking for ways to serve the community from outside the restaurant.

Sarah Dabbs, a former teacher at Jay M. Robinson High School and Furr Elementary, knew that school lunch debt was an issue.

She had seen children pulled aside and told they couldn’t receive a warm lunch like their classmates.

“The cafeteria workers are doing that in the most kind and loving way that they can,” Sarah Dabbs said. “I’ve been at the school and watched that. It’s painful even for them to do it.”

When Barrett Dabbs heard firsthand how a girl wasn’t able to eat a regular lunch because she couldn’t afford it, his heart broke.

That’s when the couple went to social media to rally the community around their initiative.

“This really is a cause we can get behind every year,” Barrett Dabbs said. “We would really like to try this yearly and rally the community.”

The Dabbses paid off the $600 school lunch debt at Furr Elementary School, and they didn’t stop there.

They want to help pay off school lunch debt at every elementary, middle and high school in the Cabarrus County Schools district.

The Dabbses want every student in the district to receive hot meals.

“Ultimately, I think we would like to have this whole school lunch debt paid off year after year, but also bring awareness to it,” Sarah Dabbs said.

Johnny Roger’s BBQ & Burgers, named after Barrett and Sarah’s fathers and two sons, has a donation link on its website, johnnyrogersbbq.com. Donors can also stop by the restaurant to give.

Johnny Roger’s BBQ & Burgers has a mission statement with its core values on the wall for customers to see.

The last two core values are what drive the Cab. Co. Cafe Challenge: “We believe that we work best when we work together, and we will support each other in our efforts to learn and grow,” and “We are dedicated to positively impacting our community through stewardship, giving and advocacy.”

“To us, that means we are doing what God wanted us to do,” Sarah Dabbs said.