Calif. Kindergartner Raises $17K to Pay Off School District’s Lunch Debt

A 5-year-old girl is making a difference in her community by making sure all student lunch debts are paid off.

Katelynn Hardee knew she had to help after learning that a mother at her school, Breeze Hill Elementary in Vista, California, was having trouble paying for the after-school program.

“She began asking me questions,” Katelynn’s mom Karina Hardee tells PEOPLE, “and I just tried to explain to her that sometimes people aren’t as fortunate as we are, and that we need to try to be kind and give when we can.”

With that in mind, Katelynn decided to launch a hot cocoa and cookie stand — and in December, pulled in $78, enough to pay off the lunch accounts for 123 Breeze Hill students, Jamie Phillips, director of child nutrition services for Vista Unified school District, told the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Since then, Katelynn’s project has seen massive growth, and she was able to expand her goal of paying off just the Breeze Hill negative lunch accounts to those of the entire district — something she accomplished in December, according to a Fundly page organized in support of what has been dubbed Kiki’s Kindness Project.

The total sum to accomplish that goal was a little over $7,700, Karina Hardee told San Diego radio station 103.7 KSON.

“This issue is important to us as the kiddos of our community are our future and no child should have to worry about their lunch account or where their next meal will come from,” Karina tells PEOPLE. “We are fortunate to live in California, but in other states, some children are shamed and/or given a different lunch.”

Katelynn has continued her mission, raising $636 at a January fundraiser at a local trampoline park that will go “back to Breeze Hill programs that are being cut due to budget cuts,” her mom told the station.

Kiki’s Kindness Project even recently hosted an event called Cases for Love, which encouraged people to donate suitcases and bags for the foster youth of San Diego, who frequently have to move from home to home.

“My husband and I were so proud of her,” Karina Hardee told 103.7. “She’s sparked a little fire even into me to try and help.”

The page as a whole has so far raised $17,308 from 74 different donors.

“It’s all about kindness,” says Karina. “With everything that’s going on in the world, we just need a little bit more kindness out there.”

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