How do five-year-olds start on the road on philanthropy? For Katelynn Hardee, a kindergartner at Breeze Hill Elementary School in Vista, California, a sense of curiosity led to a full-blown effort to pay off the negative lunch balances of over a hundred students at her school!
Karina Hardee, Katelynn’s mom, shared that her daughter had overheard a classmate’s parent relating her difficulties in paying for an after school program. “She’s very inquisitive. She started asking me a lot of questions and I tried to answer as best as I could without being too much for a 5-year-old, and just tried to explain to her that sometimes people aren’t as fortunate and that we need to try to be kind and give when we can.”
Taking her mother’s message to heart, the child was spurred into action. Katelynn asked her mother if she could sell hot cocoa and cookies to help out. She said, “I can give money to the lunch people so they’ll have money.”
On December 8, she set up a small stand in front of their home, and spent three hours that Sunday selling homemade hot cocoa, cider, and cookies shaped liked snowmen, snowflakes, presents, and Christmas trees. Family and friends showed up and the fundraiser was a success!
The day after, Karina reached out to the school, and asked how they could donate the proceeds of their weekend baked treats sale to help families pay off their lunch debt. She explained, “I just left a note saying my daughter held a hot cocoa fundraiser over the weekend and would love to donate the money to any of the negative accounts.”
The $80 that Katelynn and her mom collected on that first day has since grown and helped pay off the negative lunch balances of 123 students at her elementary school. According to her mom, Katelynn hoped that through her actions, other students “can have a snack and lunch. If they don’t, their tummies grumble.”
The school’s officials are understandably appreciative of Katelyn’s empathy and support. Breeze Hill Principal Lori Higley said, “Everybody is just so proud and happy and other students are already talking about ways they can also make a difference. It goes to show that even one small, kind act from a 5-year-old can mean the difference for someone in their life.” Her teacher Rachel Ellis added that such an act of charity “is not typical of a 5-year-old, but for Katelynn I could see that. She’s very mature for her age.”
Jamie Phillips, director of child nutrition services for the Vista Unified School District, stated over 1,000 students in the district have negative balances ranging from less than a dollar to $10 or more. Based on family income, nearly 65 percent of students in Vista qualify for free and reduced lunches.
Some families are not in the meal program because they failed to submit applications on time. Other families may be on a tight budget, and yet have incomes that are too high and cannot qualify for the meal program.
Philips explained, “The cost of living here is so much higher than other communities. You could not qualify for free and reduced meals, and could still not be at a livable income.”
After helping out her fellow students, Katelynn is moving on to something more ambitious! The young girl’s next goal is to raise enough money to pay off thousands of negative lunch accounts in other schools in the Vista Unified School District.
Katelyn’s single Sunday stand has grown into #KikisKindnessProject, where other students and staff at Breeze Hill have volunteered to host stalls selling hot cocoa and baked goodies to support her mission.
The project does not end there as well. When all lunch debts in the school district have been paid, the hardworking kindergartner plans to raise money to help support school programs that may be cut due to budget constraints. Karina said of her daughter’s plans, “It’s all about kindness. Especially this holiday season, and with everything that’s going on in the world, we just need a little bit more kindness out there.”
Anyone who wishes to support Katelynn can donate on the Fundly page of #KikisKindnessProject to support the Breeze Hill and Vista communities. With a heart filled with compassion and a readiness to help others in need, this five-year-old girl truly embodies the spirit of the holiday season.