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Kid Pays Off 123 Students’ Lunch Debts — But Should We Be Cheering?

It’s that time of year — the time of year when rancorous impeachment hearings make us grit our teeth and wish for any happy news at all. Well, here’s a little something to ponder: The New York Post reported that a 5-year-old in Vista, Calif., recently sold cookies and hot cocoa to raise enough money to pay off the school lunch debt of 123 of her fellow students. Hooray?

I mean, is this really good news, if we pan out and look at the big picture?

No one here is denying that this young girl — Katelynn Hardee — is a good Samaritan and a wonderful soul. She’d learned of other children’s lunch debts when she overheard another student’s mom mention it.

Hardee asked her mom why some kids couldn’t pay for lunch, according to FOX 5. Her mother, Karina Kardee, told the outlet, “She’s very inquisitive. So she started asking me a bunch of questions and I tried to answer as best as I could without too much for a 5-year-old and just explained to her that some people aren’t as fortunate as us.”

According to her mom, Katelynn then came up with a plan: “I can give money to the lunch people so they’ll [the kids] have money,” the kindergartener said.

Katelynn was an old pro at lemonade stands, according to FOX 5, but this time she decided to go for a holiday theme and offer hot cocoa and cookies that she made herself. In three hours, she’d raised enough proceeds to pay off lunch balances for 123 fellow students, “[s]o they can lunch and snack,” Katelynn said.

The Monday after she raised the money, her mother contacted the school, Breeze Hill Elementary, which agreed to accept the donation on behalf of the other students.

Karina Hardee told FOX 5 she was touched by her child’s altruism. “Her actions do create awesomeness,” Hardee told the outlet.

Katelynn was later presented with an award at school for showing kindness to others.

This is all beautiful on a micro-scale: Katelynn Hardee is clearly a wonderful kid. But stories like these are becoming more and more frequent — and the media is normalizing them, and thus normalizing a very flawed system that is perfectly fine with allowing children to be the ones to step up to feed other children.

When does it stop? Will there be lemonade and cookies and bake sales to pay for a classmate’s cancer treatment, because insurance companies refuse to pay? Will we keep praising the children while we turn a blind eye to the real cancer: the failure of grown adults and institutions supposed to protect our most vulnerable from hunger and sickness?

We cheer for these stories, time and time again. But perhaps we should be weeping at the state of our nation — a wealthy nation where “school lunch debt” for children as young as 5 exists, and is treated as a crime.


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