When you do something nice for someone, how often do you expect it to become the topic of conversation across the country? Basically never, right? Well, for nine-year-old Ryan Kyote, his good deed at school has sparked a national debate over the school lunch system in America.
Kyote, a third-grader at West Park Elementary School in California, made headlines when he saved up six months of his allowance to pay off the lunch debt accrued by his fellow classmates. He would often use his lunch card to buy students meals who couldn't otherwise afford it, but this time he wanted to take it further. Kyote had heard of a five-year-old boy in Indiana who was denied lunch, and he knew he wanted to do something.
“He was like, ‘I don’t understand why that happened. Why would that happen to a 5-year-old?’" his mother, Kylie Kirkpatrick told PEOPLE. “It really touched him in a way and he wanted to do something so that wouldn’t happen to his friends. We talked about what we could do to make a difference locally.”
Luckily, Kyote found out that his school policy wouldn't deny kids food if they couldn't pay, but they would incur a 'lunch debt' which would have to be paid at the end of the year. Kirkpatrick said this debt is a burden on many families. Kyote marched into the school with his mom, and used his saved up $74.80 to pay off the debt of his friends.
“Then we went to his school, walked into his school’s front office. Ryan handed the receipt to the secretary and said, ‘Can you let my friends know that they don’t owe any more money?’ ” Kirkpatrick said. “Then he skipped off to class. This has been really empowering for him … he knows now what kind of power he has and what he’s capable of doing and we can use it for good. It doesn’t matter how old you are, look at what you can do.”
Originally, Kyote asked to pay for the debt anonymously.
"I want them to realize people actually think about them because you're not just bragging about stuff," he said. "I want them to feel happy someone cares about them."
While the story is one that initially makes you feel good, it also reminds you that there are kids starving at school during the day because their parents can't afford to pay the bill at school. Many people pointed out that it shouldn't be up to a third grader to cover the costs of feeding his friends. Kirkpatrick agrees.
“I appreciate the passion and I appreciate the outrage," she said. "Part of me is heartbroken that [lunch debt] is even a thing. It shouldn’t be a problem. But I was also empowered that a 9-year-old boy from Napa, California, has created such a media storm targeting children internationally that are left at school all day hungry. It’s just incredible.”
The story has gone completely viral, with people calling for a reform to the schooling system.
“School lunch debt’ should not exist in the wealthiest country in the history of the world,” Bernie Sanders wrote in a tweet.
Journalist Mark Ames added: “This country is deranged — children who don’t want to starve become debtors before they’re 10. Up to 30 million USA children rely on these school lunch programs just to eat.”
"All these stories about kids using their saved allowances and bake sale profits etc to pay off their entire class school lunch debt in a country where we have billionaires is depressing as hell," Twitter user @GodisRivera wrote.
"You misspelled...'there should be no such thing as school lunch debt in the richest country on earth,'" another person wrote.
"Children shouldn't be saddled with debt in the first place, shame on the school system," someone else pointed out.
"Like, it's sweet and all, don't get me wrong, but the responsibility and compassion shouldn't fall down on his shoulders," someone else commented. "It's like they're ignoring the heart of the issue by letting this kind-hearted kid take it all on."
Kirkpatrick acknowledged that her son shouldn't have to take on the weight of someone else's debt, but she's happy her son knows the importance of standing up for those who may not be able to stand up for themselves.
“I agree that he shouldn’t have to, but I think that he is a member of our community so he ought to," she said. "I teach my kids that when you see something that needs to be improved on and somebody voice isn’t being heard, then you get loud for them.”
What Kyote did is absolutely amazing, but he shouldn't have to give up his own money when this country is so prosperous.