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Missouri fifth grader raises enough money to pay off his entire school's lunch debt

The school surprised Daken Kramer with a legacy award which they plan to hand out annually to a special fifth grader like him.
Daken Kramer Missouri School Lunch Debt
Posted at 6:06 PM, May 28, 2024

A Missouri fifth grader was on a mission to help out his school and ended up wiping out all the outstanding school lunch debt for his fellow students.

Daken Kramer said he was inspired to give back after his teacher, Mrs. Haley, recommended he become an "I AM Noticed" peer leader at his elementary school in a metropolitan district outside of Kansas City. Daken said members of the group go out of their way to make others feel noticed.

“I wanted to show how much I appreciate my teacher and school by doing something nice for the families in my school community who needed help,” Daken told Scripps News. A fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, Daken said he was also inspired by people like Patrick Mahomes, who often does charity work.

Daken and his mom, Vanessa, began brainstorming ideas on how he could give back. Once his mother explained what school meal debt was, Daken said he “couldn’t believe that was a thing” and knew that was how he could make a difference.

According to the Education Data Initiative, the national public school meal debt is $262 million a year, even with millions of students eligible for free or reduced meals. In its latest report, Feeding America found that 1 in 5 children in the U.S. may experience food insecurity.

Daken said sometimes school lunch might be the only healthy meal a kid gets during the day, and it’s not fair that some families can’t afford it.

“I think all students should get free breakfast and lunch at school. A lot of kids skip breakfast completely and you’re not supposed to,” said Daken.

The young boy made a video to share on social media with a call to action. He asked family, friends and local businesses to donate to his fundraiser so that he could give the money to the school to clear some of the students’ meal debt before his fifth grade graduation ceremony at the end of the school year.

Originally, he thought he might raise up to $300 and even went as far as knocking on doors for donations around his neighborhood. But it wasn’t long after that his video took off and the donations started pouring in from all over the country.

The fundraiser total jumped up to $3,370 in just one day after he began doing interviews with various news organizations.

After it was all said and done, Daken’s school district said he raised over $7,400, which not only cleared the school meal debt at his elementary school but also helped clear the debt for a high school in the same district.

Daken proudly presented his school with the big check.

“To be up there in front of the moms and dads who might have had lunch debt, it was an amazing experience knowing I helped them,” said Kramer. “It felt better than any sports game I’ve ever played.”

“I’d say it even felt better than getting to meet Isiah Pacheco,” added Daken speaking about the Chiefs’ running back.

But what Daken didn’t know was that the school had something to present him, too.

Touched by his selfless efforts, Daken’s fifth grade teachers purchased a plaque and presented him with a “Daken Kramer Legacy Award.”

“I was shocked,” said Daken, reflecting on the moment he received the recognition. “I didn’t do it for attention or anything, I just wanted to do something nice. So I was very surprised when my teacher announced the award. And because Mrs. Haley has inspired me so much this year, it was definitely pretty special that she was the one to announce. I hope this encourages future fifth-graders to do good deeds and want to leave a legacy by wanting to help their school and community.”

The new legacy award will honor a fifth grade student at the school each year for their community impact and the plaque with their names will hang outside of the school's office.

While Daken is certainly leaving behind a lasting legacy as he moves on to the sixth grade, he’s not done helping others. He and his mom are considering doing more fundraisers in the future and want to speak with their local politicians about how they could make school lunches free for everyone.

“If I can accomplish my goal and make a difference, then so can you,” said Daken “A lot of people do things for likes or views, but it’s not about that. It’s about wanting to make the world a better place.”