A Missouri fifth grader raised enough money to pay off his entire school’s meal debt | CNN (2024)

A Missouri fifth grader raised enough money to pay off his entire school’s meal debt | CNN (1)

Daken Kramer is the first recipient of the Daken Kramer Legacy Award.


Kids can now eat without breaking the piggy bank – at least, at Thomas Ultican Elementary School – thanks to fifth grader Daken Kramer.

Daken paid off the entire meal debt and then some, for his elementary school in Blue Springs, Missouri, after turning in a check for more than $7,300. Daken’s original goal was $3,500, which was just overthe total of the school’s debt, according to Daken’s mother, Vanessa Kramer. The remaining amount was given to Blue Springs High School, another school in the district.

“Children in elementary school should not have debt tied to their name. We have found out that there are high schools that keep seniors from attending prom or walking at graduation if they have stuff like student lunch debt,” Kramer said. “Some families can’t help it. They can’t pay it off.”

In a video shared to his mom’s Facebook, Daken had challenged “friends, family and local businesses to donate what they can to this cause.”

Upon Daken’s request, Kramer reached out to Blue Springs School District to get information about the school’s meal debt. Soon, the online fundraiser was spreading to states like Texas, Florida and New Jersey. Within a matter of two weeks, Daken’s fundraiser more than doubled his goal.

As of Daken’s fifth grade graduation on Tuesday, the Daken Kramer Legacy Award will now be an annual honor for fifth graders striving to make their own mark.

Muhlenberg twp., PA - September 10: Joan Sandritter, left, a Cafeteria Worker for the School District, and Carey Kline, the director of Food Service and Nutrition in the Muhlenberg School District, load grab and go breakfasts and lunches into a box to distribute. At the Muhlenberg Elementary Center in Muhlenberg twp, PA Thursday morning September 10, 2020 where school district employees were distributing grab and go meals to students. The program has been going on since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and is continuing this school year as all education in the district is being done virtually. (Photo by Ben Hasty/MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle via Getty Images) MediaNews Group/Reading Eagle vi/MediaNews Group RM/MediaNews Group via Getty Images video Related video Cheese sandwich and milk: How this school district wanted to combat lunch debt

“Your selfless actions will impact dozens of students throughout the district,” Kristi Haley, Daken’s teacher, said as she announced the award in his name. “It’s not the amount of money you raised, although that was absolutely incredible. It’s your heart, your drive, your determination and your grit to help others that inspires us.”

Daken said the award took him aback.

“It was definitely a surprise. I had no idea that they were going to do that,” he said. “And I definitely started to feel a lot of emotions.”

A lunch for an elementary schooler in the Blue Springs School District is $2.55 – with the reduced price being 40 cents for students in need, according to the district.

A Missouri fifth grader raised enough money to pay off his entire school’s meal debt | CNN (3)

Daken Kramer and his teacher, Kristi Haley, who served as his "inspiration" for the fundraiser.

About 29% of the roughly 15,000 students enrolled in the Blue Springs School District are eligible for a free or reduced lunch, district spokesperson Katie Woolf told CNN Thursday.

While Daken’s fundraiser cleared his school’s meal debt, the Blue Springs School District meal debt totals to more than $235,000, according to Woolf. The district includes 20 schools at varying levels.

The School Nutrition Association reported among the school districts represented by their members – about one-fifth of US school districts nationwide – meal debt ranged from $10 to approximately $1 million, according to the school nutrition directors who are members of their organization and who responded to the association’s 2024 survey. The association collected this data as a part of their lobbying effort to try to get more funding for school meal programs.

In November 2023, the median reported district meal debt was about $5,495 among districts represented by members who responded to the survey, which was up from about $5,164 in the survey a year prior, according to the association.

Hoping to bring wider attention to the issue of school meal debt, Kramer says she and Daken are now working with a Missouri state representative to see if they can take their efforts to the next level.

Students at Gudy Gaskill Elementary School in Centennial, Colorado, pick up their lunch. Littleton Public Schools Related article States step in to pay for school meals for all kids

Seeing the droves of people who reached out with support showed Kramer how one person can make a difference, she said.

“Even though this is something that kids don’t need to worry about and don’t have any responsibility (for), I’m very, very proud as his mom that he is mature enough to see that there is an issue and if the people who have the power to make a change won’t change anything, then he will step up and make a change,” she said.

Daken, whose favorite school lunch is an orange chicken and rice bowl, says kids don’t have to do extraordinary things to be the next recipient of the Daken Kramer Legacy Award.

“They don’t really need to do anything big to get the award,” Daken said. “It’s only if they really care about it and they are really, really compassionate about helping the school.”

A Missouri fifth grader raised enough money to pay off his entire school’s meal debt | CNN (2024)


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