One young boy in Vancouver, Washington found a solution to his school’s lunch debt issue.
Keoni Ching, just 8 years old, decided to make and sell keychains in order to pay back the debt.
He wanted to do something special for his school’s Kindness Week, and so he sought to follow in many celebrities’ footsteps in paying off school lunch debt.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) mandated that school districts crack down on student’s unpaid meals, better known as school lunch debt. They did not state how, only that the already financially struggling schools had to make up for the ever-growing lunch debt.
While groups like the School Nutrition Association (SNA) advocate for universal free school lunches, schools cannot afford to do that and pay back their debts.
And so schools resorted to Lunch Shaming.
This can take the form of giving kids with debts different lunches, often times denying them hot meals. A school in Rhode Island decided to give students with school lunch debt peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, while all other students receive hot lunches.
An extreme example of Lunch Shaming occurred in Pennsylvania when a local school district sent hundreds of letters telling parents who owed lunch money for their children to pay up or else their kids could go into foster care.
“Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without breakfast and/or lunch.” the letter said, adding that failure to provide children with food could result in parents being sent to Dependency Court.
“If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care,” the letter read.
But paying off the school lunch debt is not as easy as it sounds. For many families, they cannot afford to pay back the owed lunch money—so they have to let their child be shamed.
Hearing about the efforts of Keoni Ching, people all over the country ordered keychains. To help his cause, people would pay well above the asking price of the keychains just to give extra money to the young boy. They sold keychains to people in Rhode Island, Minnesota, and even Alaska. It was truly a country-wide effort to help Keoni.
In total, Keoni raised over $4,000 dollars. He delivered the check to his elementary school, and the money will pay off the current debt and $500 worth of future school lunch debt students may incur. Some of the money will also go to nearby schools to help pay off their debt.
The issue of school lunch debt and Lunch Shaming is one that will not go away without effort put in by communities. But people like Keoni show that a little bit of kindness and ingenuity can go a long way in alleviating the pressure put on struggling families by school lunch debt.
All we have to do is be kind to one another.