One morning in April, I needed a pick-me-up so I drove to Starbucks, and as I often do, I decided to pay for the order of the person behind me in the drive-thru.
I realize that people who can afford Starbucks aren’t the most needing of a good deed, but it's something I like to do to pay it forward and make people feel good. Heck, maybe even it will start the pay-it-forward effect and touch a few more people with good deeds. I've done it maybe 20 times at this spot in the last three months. This particular time, I updated my Facebook status afterward.
Later that day one of my friends from high school — who I haven't talked to probably since high school — sent me a personal message on Facebook. “Can I give you another idea?” Cheyane asked.
She suggested that instead of paying for people's coffee, I should help local students by paying off delinquent lunch accounts. She got the idea from a news story about a kid in Utah who was denied lunch because his account was in the negative just earlier that week. When she heard that some kids refuse to eat at all so that they aren't seen with the bag lunch for students with delinquent accounts, she called her school the next day and paid off 12 accounts.
I thought this was a great idea, but quickly forgot until a week later when I was chaperoning my nephew's kindergarten class on a field trip to the circus. As I was getting off the bus back at the school, the conversation about paying off lunch accounts popped into my head. I walked right into the cafeteria and said, “I'm here to pay off some accounts.”
Cafeteria supervisor Latiousha Smith looked at me and said, “Great, what are your kids' names?”
I told her my nephews' accounts were fine. I was there to pay off other delinquent accounts.
I decided I'd put $100 in, since Cheyane said she had paid off 12 accounts at her daughter's school, and to be honest, I wanted to outdo her. Fiscally speaking, this wasn't a great decision since I didn't have much more than $100 in my bank account, but I thought, these kids shouldn't have to worry about getting a different lunch from all their friends. It's not under a 6-year-old's control if their family can't afford the lunches.
So as Latiousha was going through and paying off the delinquent accounts — ranging from about $9 to $20 each — I had a thought.
“What's the total school balance?” I asked.
“For delinquent lunches.”
She said, “$1,261.98.”
“You'll see me next Friday.”
“What’s next Friday?”
I said, “I'm going to pay the whole thing.”
When I got home, I posted a Facebook status about what I had done and my plan for Lakeside Elementary to have zero lunch accounts in the negative. I had a lot of interest, but hadn't gone "all-in" yet. Tuesday I woke up and decided, "Let's do this." I wrote a blog post about my idea and set up a Paypal button so people could easily donate to the cause.
Soon I had attracted the attention of a local news station, which shared my post and came out to film a story. By the time the story aired I had surpassed Lakeside’s balance.
With more than enough to pay off Lakeside, I sent a message to Cheyane and told her I would pay the balance at her daughter's school Weston Elementary. The next day I did the same for Grassy Creek Elementary, where I went to school growing up. Two weeks later, we had enough for Brookview Elementary, which is one I picked because someone recommended it.
With that sort of momentum, I had to keep things going. I'm in the process of filing 501(c)(3) paperwork to start a nonprofit called Feed The Kids, Inc. We have a website for people that will allow you to start campaigns for specific schools or to set up a recurring payment to sponsor a student. We're also working on getting corporate sponsors.
On Aug. 16, WNBA Champions the Indiana Fever are having a fan night with a special $17 ticket with all proceeds from those tickets going to Feed The Kids, Inc. My goal is to have every kid in America in school eating the same lunch, every day, and never having to worry about the stigma of the brown bag lunch.
There is no shortage of good deeds you can do. This one presented itself to me, and I ran with it because I seem to activate people. Why not use that ability to make a difference and help these kids?
If you want to pay it forward with me, visit KidsLunches.org and donate.
Top photo of Ryan Cox and his nephews Kevin, Kameron and Elijah, provided by Ryan Cox.