A young student took it into her own hands to help out her classmates who had trouble paying off their lunch debt

By PEOPLE
December 20, 2019
Courtesy of Karina Hardee

A 5-year-old girl sold cookies and cocoa to pay off the meal debts for more than 100 of her fellow classmates—and now she wants to do even more.

When Katelynn Hardee—a kindergartner at Breeze Hill Elementary School in Vista, California — overheard the parent of one of her classmates saying she was having financial trouble, her own mother tried to turn it into a teachable moment.

"She started asking me a lot of questions and I just tried to explain to her that sometimes people aren't as fortunate and that we need to try to be kind and give when we can," Katelynn's mom, Karina Hardee, told CNN.

That's when the kind kindergartner came up with the idea of selling treats to raise money for the families of her classmates who needed financial help, and she spent a recent Sunday making and selling cocoa, cookies and cider.

Katelynn and her mother then donated $80 to the school to help pay off the meal debt of 123 students at her elementary school.

Related: More School Lunchrooms Across the Nation Will Start Cooking from Scratch Thanks to a USDA Federal Grant

"[She hopes other students] can have a snack and lunch," Katelynn said, according to Hardee. "If they don't, their tummies grumble."

According to a 2019 report from the School Nutrition Association, 75 percent of reporting school districts had unpaid student meal debt. Most of the districts that reported having students with lunch debt had a low prevalence of free or reduced-price meals available.

The average unpaid student meal debt per district amounted to $3,400, the association found. Debt totals were reported from as little as $10 to as much as $500,000. The total school lunch debt among the 570 districts that reported the amount was greater than $10.9 million.

"Everybody is just so proud and happy and other students are already talking about ways they can also make a difference," Breeze Hill Principal Lori Higley told CNN. "It goes to show that even one small, kind act from a 5-year-old can mean the difference for someone in their life."

Katelynn now wants to help other students in her school district settle their lunch debts and is planning to host another treat stand at her school this weekend to raise funds.

"It's all about kindness," her mother said. "Especially this holiday season, and with everything that's going on in the world, we just need a little bit more kindness out there."

This article originally appeared on PEOPLE.com by Jason Duaine Hahn.

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