Two years ago, then eight-year-old Cayden Taipalus from Michigan decided he should do something so that no kid in school would be denied a hot lunch because of a delinquent lunch account.
The idea came to him one day when, during lunch at Challenger Elementary School at Howell, Livingston County, he saw how a friend was served with a cold cheese sandwich instead of the usual hot lunch because of a delinquent lunch account.
Cayden, who was in fourth grade at the time, felt bad about what happened. He shared the story to his mom, Amber Peters, and asked her how they could help pay for the lunch accounts of other kids, particularly those from low-income families.
"Cayden was in school buying his lunch and the little boy in front of him had to put down his hot lunch due to no funds on his lunch account," Peters said in an interview with ABC News. "It upset the little boy, which in turn upset Cayden."
Cayden and his mom came up with an idea: they would raise money from friends, family and neighbors so they could help kids at his school to pay for delinquent lunch accounts. They called their project Pay It Forward: No Kid Goes Hungry.
Aside from asking for donations from family and friends, Cayden collected cans for recycling to raise more funds.
The first amount Cayden donated to the school was $64, which covered a total of 150 hot lunches.
According to school officials, low-income students who can’t afford hot lunches have the option to get the less expensive alternative, which often consisted of a sandwich, a serving of fruit and juice. In Livingston County, about a third of the students are from low-income families and couldn’t afford the hot lunch option.
To raise more funds for the kids, Cayden and his mom also set up a crowdfunding page at FundRazr. Within two weeks of launching the campaign, they were able to raise $7,000.
Donations poured in from different parts of the world, including Belgium, The Netherlands and Hong Kong. To date, they have raised a total of more than $40,000, which not only paid for the students’ hot lunches but also put extra funds in their lunch accounts for future lunches.
Howell Public Schools director Thomas Gould told ABC News that Cayden’s effort “is very generous and it shows how caring all of our students are.”
The Pay It Forward: No Kid Goes Hungry project has helped not just the kids at Challenger Elementary School but other kids in the county as well.
Peters said Cayden personally hands in the donations to the schools every morning before he goes to school.
Today, two years since the project started, 11-year-old Cayden continues to distribute the donations to different schools. Just last week, he helped pay for 5,000 hot lunches at Hartland Consolidated Schools.
“Thank you to all the wonderful donations from everyone,” a post from the Pay It Forward’s Facebook page said. “We were able to pay for 5,000 lunches today. We made a lot of kids very happy.”