Here’s what we’re not arguing with: The fact that the 9-year-old boy who paid off his class’s lunch debt so everyone could eat a hot lunch is definitely a great kid. A terrific kid, generous and kind. No arguments there. Well done, parents of this dear child.
Here’s what we’ve got some serious trouble with: No 9-year-old child should have to pay off his class’s lunch debt. Ever. And what kind of loser adult accepts a check like that from a kid and applies it to the accounts of the other children? Come on, now.
The school lunch system is very, very screwed up in the United States. Children are now feeding other children — where exactly are the adults in this equation? Why is it so difficult to enact a system where all children get fed hot, nutritious breakfasts and lunches during the school day?
Here’s the story in this boy’s case: Ryan Kirkpatrick, a third-grader, attends West Park Elementary School in California. When he found out that many kids are unable to afford to have a school lunch, he was shocked. He was even more shocked to learn that their families often have to assume debt if their kids do eat lunch, according to Kylie Kirkpatrick, his mother, as reported by ABC News7.
Ryan wanted to find out exactly how much debt was being incurred by the families of his classmates. So his mom did a little sleuthing on his behalf and found out that his friends, en masse, owed about $74.50. That’s not pocket change for a third-grader. That’s a whole lot of allowance.
ABC News7 reported that Kylie Kirkpatrick asked Ryan what he wanted to do about the situation. “He said, ‘I guess I can pay for it.’ I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And he said yes.'”
Instead of buying another autographed baseball (his usual expenditure), he donated the money to the school. The outlet reported that Ryan donated anonymously (although obviously, somehow that anonymity went out the window).
Ryan said, “I want them just to realize people actually think about them instead of just telling them what they did, because you’re just bragging about stuff. I want them to feel happy that someone cares about them.”
NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio had this response on Twitter — and we could not agree more:
Ryan Kirkpatrick is one heck of a noble kid — but he shouldn’t have to be. We made lunch free for every @NYCSchools student because it was the right thing to do.
West Park Elementary, give him back his money and quit holding debt over kids’ heads for daring to want to eat lunch. https://t.co/VSvKfrXrTW
— Mayor Bill de Blasio (@NYCMayor) June 11, 2019
Again: sweet, big gesture from a sweet little kid. But should it fall to a child to pay off the lunch debts of his third-grade class? We’d argue hell no. It’s an ugly system that holds lunch debt over struggling families’ heads.
But hey, at least West Park Elementary School is not one of the schools that withholds hot meals from children who have negative lunch accounts. It could be worse! There are far too many schools that do just that — and we’re still stunned about the kindly cafeteria worker who lost her job when she permitted a hungry child to take food on a negative lunch account. Lunch-shaming in schools is real — and the problem requires bigger fixes than the feel-good altruism of a 9-year-old. Sorry not sorry. (But kudos to Ryan Kirkpatrick for sure.)