Better World

Second-Grader Pays Off School’s Lunch Debt By Making Custom Keychains For Kindness Week

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Inspired by San Francisco 49ers player Richard Sherman, who celebrated his Superbowl win by donating more than $27,000 to cover students’ lunch debt, 8-year-old Keoni Ching decided to do the same for his classmates.

The second-grader from Vancouver, Washington, wanted to step it up during Kindness Week at his elementary school, and he decided making and selling key chains would be a fun way to raise money to cover his classmates’ lunch debt. “I love key chains. They look good on my backpack,” he told CNN

School lunch debt has made plenty of headlines recently. After a video surfaced on social media of a Minnesota cafeteria worker tossing out lunches because of student debt, hundreds of people donated a total of $22,000 to pay it off. In New Jersey, a school told students they couldn’t attend prom if they didn’t pay off their lunch debts. And just last year California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law that mandates all students are entitled to a school lunch, whether or not they have the funds to pay.

Shaming students or prohibiting them from participating in school activities over school lunch debt has never been shown to be an effective solution to the problem. That’s why Ching’s idea is so brilliant. It shows the world what kindness and thoughtfulness look like, but it also shows what kids can do with a little entrepreneurial spirit. To date Ching has made hundreds of key chains for people all over the country, earning more than $4,000 to pay for the debts at his school as well as those of nearby schools, too. 

For those who aren’t familiar with how these debt programs work, students who don’t qualify for free school meals in the National School Breakfast Program and the National School Lunch Program and qualify for reduced-price school meals can be charged a maximum of 30 cents per day for breakfast and 40 cents for lunch. For those who don’t qualify for reduced-price school meals, the school districts set the prices. Both of these groups can accrue debt.

In the 2017-2018 school year, 75 percent of school districts reporting had unpaid student meal debt, according to the School Nutrition Association, and the median amount of unpaid meal debt per district has risen by 70 percent since the 2012/2013 school year.

As the country looks for solutions to this growing problem, we can thank this 8-year-old for spurring conversations and ideas that may help alleviate the debt for many students.

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.