Middle schoolers tend to get a bad rap for being moody trouble-makers. We’ve all been there, but this is far from the case for one 8th grade student who started a movement to help raise money for his district’s overwhelming lunch debt.
This is Ben Hofer, an eighth-grade student at St. Andrews Episcopal School in Austin, Texas.
The 14-year-old started a school project aimed at eliminating the $18,000 lunch debt for the AISD district.
The school district includes 129 schools in Texas which provide over 70,000 meals per day.
The semester-long fundraising project, which Ben dubbed “LunchCounts!”, was kicked off via a GoFundMe page on April 21.
In his description, Ben lists out the lunch debts by school.
The initial goal was set at $3,200 to pay off debts for three schools and was achieved within the first week.
“I was never expecting to raise this much money, really honestly,” Ben told Good Morning America. “It’s pretty crazy but the more the better, I guess, because it’s more kids we could pay off.”
Ben took an interest in the district’s lunch debt after hearing about “lunch shaming” in other schools across the country. Examples of lunch shaming include serving cold food to a child who can’t afford to pay for their meal or denying lunch to a child altogether.
Ben’s mother, Kelly Walton, says she is impressed with her son for wanting to help those less fortunate than himself.
“[Ben said] to me, ‘you know they were throwing food out in front of a kid if they cant afford it?’” Walton told GMA. “He did interviews then with cafeteria budget workers and [learned] every kid gets a lunch, but they rack up debt.”
“Their parents simply cannot pay it sometimes,” she added. “I think it’s good for him to realize that not everyone has [what he has].”
Fortunately, Austin ISD says it will never deny a child a full lunch.
“No child goes hungry and all students are offered the same foods,” said Anneliese Tanner, executive director of Austin ISD Food Services and Warehouse Operations. “We aren’t just focused on every student getting a meal, but it being the best quality meal.”
Ben’s project has currently raised nearly half of the district’s overall lunch debt.
“I think Ben is an amazing leader and is so compassionate,” Tanner said. “Especially at his age, to recognize that there are students his age and younger who are struggling with food insecurities and facing hunger. He’s taking steps to try and do something about it — how admirable.”
Next week, Ben will be presenting his project in front of the school and he hopes to continue helping with the lunch debt every year.
“If we could get to the whole debt, that’d be really cool. I don’t think we’ll get there by the end of the school year, but you never know,” Ben said.