NAPA, Calif. - Nine-year-old Ryan Kirkpatrick had an issue with the fact that some of his fellow classmates couldn't afford to pay for their school lunches, so he decided to do something about it.
Ryan had seen a story in the news about a kindergartner who was shamed for not having money to pay for her lunch and brought it to his mom's attention.
"My son saw that story on the news and came to me while I was getting ready for work and he was in tears and didn't understand why that happened," said Kylie Kirkpatrick, Ryan's mom.
She said they talked about how students are required to pay for lunch and that some people don't have the money to pay for it, "and that didn't agree with him."
They contacted the food service department for their school district and found that the total debt accumulated by every kid at Ryan's school added up to almost $800. The school explained to Kirkpatrick that the students accrue a debt no matter their age, which she found upsetting.
Kirkpatrick asked how much the third graders owed and it was about $75.
Ryan's mom told him about the $75 tab and asked what he wanted to do about it. Ryan simply said, "I'm going to pay the bill."
They went to the business office of the school district and wrote a check. "They were really taken aback at how serious he was about this," said Kirkpatrick.
They presented their school secretary with the receipt and Ryan said, "Please tell my classmates' families that they don't owe any more money."
According to Kirkpatrick, the meals have a sliding scale depending on families' income and can range anywhere from 25 cents to $3, which she says can add up by the end of the school year, causing unnecessary stress to parents already struggling financially.
Kirkpatrick explained how upsetting it was that children were being burdened with the financial guilt of their lunches going unpaid.
"You don't know where your lunch is coming from, you can't afford to pay for lunch that day, all of your other friends have these amazing meals, regardless of the situation, that is not something that a little kid should be worrying about," Kirkpatrick said.
Kirkpatrick hopes that her son's story will bring more awareness to this issue so that there are better plans in place for free meals for all elementary school students.
"What we talked about during this process was about how one person, regardless of age, can start a movement, and that at least in our family we believe community happens over a meal," she said.