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11-Year-Old Raises $7K To Pay Off Entire School's Lunch Debt

Vanessa Kramer via CNN Newsource and Facebook/ Vanessa Kramer
Uplifting News

11-Year-Old Steps Up to Pay Off His School's Entire Lunch Debt

"There's no such thing as a free lunch!" Unless you happen to be a student at Thomas Ultican Elementary School in Blue Springs, Missouri.

And then...Bon Appétit!

Because an 11-year-old student at the school just single-handedly raised $7,300 to pay off his entire school's lunch debt...and then some, giving the leftovers to the local high school to pay down their debt too.

Why a Fifth-Grader Decided to Pay Off His School's Lunch Debt

Daken Kramer may only be 11 years old but he's already quite the philanthropist. It was his last year at Thomas Ultican Elementary (TUE) and the soon-to-be middle schooler just wanted to say "thank you."

Knowing that TUE has a high number of students who come from economically challenged homes, he decided to tackle the problem head-on.

According to the Blue Springs School District, a lunch costs $2.55 – with a 40-cent reduction for students in need. But even with the reduction, it is still too big a financial burden for some families.

So, wanting to reduce their stress, he started a fundraiser called “Daken Feeds TUE” to clear the lunch debt books.

Daken took to social media to spread the word, posting a video on his mother's Facebook page.

"TUE has shaped me into an outgoing, kind, compassionate, respectful, strong leader," he said.

"While I can never repay this school for all of the hard work that has gone into my education and my well-being, I would like to do something to show my gratitude."

"A lot of kids at school already benefit from reduced lunches and some are still not able to pay their lunch debt. Please consider helping these families relieve one stress from their lives."

Daken Kramer via Facebook

Turns out, he's not just a really kind kid, he's a pretty darn persuasive salesperson as well.

His original goal was $3,500 —a little more than the total outstanding bill — but when word got out, donations came pouring in.

Within two weeks, he'd already doubled it. In the end he raised an impressive $7,370.

For Daken's mom, Vanessa Kramer, her son's initiative had significant meaning. As a child who grew up with a single mom, she knows the struggle of food insecurity.

"Doing research for this fundraiser has brought a lot of sad memories up for me," she wrote in a Facebook post. "I was a kid who could have benefited from the free/reduced lunch program since I was being raised by a single mother...There were plenty of times where I had to get a PB&J instead."

Paying It Forward

Missouri fifth grade student Daken Kramer, 11, raises $7,370 to pay off his school's lunch debt.

Missouri fifth grade student Daken Kramer, 11, raises $7,370 to pay off his school's lunch debt.

KMBC9 News

Daken's actions spurred the school to start a brand-new initiative. It established a legacy award in Daken's honor, to be given to future fifth graders who follow his lead and strive to make a difference.

His teacher, Kristi Haley, announced the "Daken Kramer Legacy Award" at his grade 5 graduation.

“Your selfless actions will impact dozens of students throughout the district,” she said.

“It’s not the amount of money you raised, although that was absolutely incredible. It’s your heart, your drive, your determination and your grit to help others that inspires us.”

Daken was shocked. "It was definitely a surprise. I had no idea that they were going to do that," he said. "And I definitely started to feel a lot of emotions."

Not only did Daken make a huge difference in the lives of his fellow classmates, but his act of kindness will now have a lasting impact long after he has moved on.

One Person Really Can Make a Difference

Daken's fundraiser made a difference in his community but it also shed light on a larger issue — the problem with school lunch debt.

While Daken cleared his school’s meal debt, there's still a lot of debt to go. Blue Springs School District spokesperson, Katie Woolf, told CNN that meal debt totals more than $235,000 in her district alone.

And meal debt is reaching unprecedented heights across the United States. A recent survey from the School Nutrition Association found school districts have more than $17 million in unpaid meal debt.

Hoping to bring wider attention to the issue of school meal debt, Kramer says she and Daken are now working with a Missouri state representative to see if they can take their efforts to the next level.

“I'm trying to teach my kids that if the people who have the power to make a difference won't, it's OK to step up and be that person that will make a difference,” Vanessa said.

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