A growing issue that’s beginning to appear within American politics regards the student lunch debt crisis in our public school districts. When students don’t have enough money in their specific schools lunch money account, they begin to acquire a debt that will eventually lead to them being cut off from buying meals all together. California recently combated this issue by banning lunch shaming students for being in debt, while also guaranteeing that no student would ever be denied a meal from their school, regardless of how much debt they’re in.
Other solutions that have been brought about for paying off these debts have involved celebrities or major companies stepping in to donate enough money so that every student has the chance to eat a meal everyday; something that seems as though it should be guaranteed in a country that has such a focus on educational values/funding.
Besides individuals who have the privilege, power, and financial means to pay for an entire district or states lunch funding, children are taking it upon themselves to help one another have guaranteed access to meals everyday. Recently, an 8-year-old boy named Keoni Ching from Vancouver, Washington raised over $4,000 to completely eradicate every student’s lunch debt at his school; along with six other schools as well.
It was “Kindness Week” at Benjamin Franklin Elementary where Keoni goes to school, and with a little help from his parents and friends, he was able to come up with the perfect kindness project for himself. Keoni told the news that he loves putting key chains on his backpack, so selling homemade ones just seemed like the perfect fit! Once his parents took to social media with their sons project his mini-business went viral, prompting dozens of order requests from all around the country!
“We have sent key chains to Alaska, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Arizona, all over the country. There was one lady who said she wanted $100 worth of key chains so that she could just hand them out to people. There were several people who bought one key chain and gave [Keoni] a hundred bucks. It was absolutely amazing how much support the community showed for his whole project,” Keoni’s mother, April Ching, told CNN.
Keoni made and sold more than 300 key chains when all was said and done. He sold each one for $5, and with the additional donations made he was able to make $4,015, which he immediately gave over to Franklin Elementary school. According to the district, $1,000 of the money will be going towards paying off the student debt at the school; $500 to pay off the current total debt amongst the students, and another $500 to save for future debt occurrences. The remaining $3,015 will be distributed among six other schools in the Vancouver, Washington area for the same use.
“Lunches here are about $2. But if you have two or three kids and for whatever reason, you’ve missed (paying for) a week of lunch or breakfasts, that adds up pretty quickly. This type of a gift takes a little bit of pressure off of your family,” Franklin Elementary’s Principal Woody Howard said.
The story is rooted in inspiration, kindness, and innocence. When all is said and done, we do need to have a much larger conversation about why an eight-year-old had to pay off the debts of all his classmates when that debt equated to the cost of cell phone. The overarching issue comes down to public school funding and where our countries priorities lie in regard to that. Education is often pushed as the most important and necessary experience every single child must endure. However, how is a country that’s so focused on building up the minds of its younger generation, also so blind to the ways in which they’re also setting them up for failure?
According to the School Nutrition Association, during the 2017-2018 school year 75% of school districts in the United States reported unpaid student lunch debts by the end of the year. The SNA also reported that within the past decade, the average amount of unpaid debt that each student owed has increased by 70%.
These statistics have caused stories like Keoni’s to increase within the past few years; and the public is understandably outraged by it. Luckily, most individuals understand that a child’s main priority when it comes to their education, should just be getting that education. As previously stated, because of this outrage states like California are making legal policies to combat any financial discrepancies that involve a child’s right to meals everyday. Like most politics, what seems like a no-brainier law, is anything but that, so we need to ensure that kids like Keoni can focus on fun, friends, and his time-tables, and leave the debt-crisis talk to the politicians who hold the same values.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.