8th grader paid off more than half of school district’s $19K school lunch debt

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – The Austin Independent School District just got more than half of their school lunch debt paid, and it’s all thanks to the effort of an Austin eighth-grader. 

On Thursday, Ben Hofer presented a check to AISD for $9,000 in funds raised through a Go Fund Me he created in January.

“I always thought lunch was something you just did every single day and you got it no matter what because you paid for lunch at the beginning of the year,” Hofer explained, adding that this is how he knows it works at his school, St. Andrews Episcopal. “Then I realized some kids at some public schools get lunch some days and not other days.”

Though AISD still provides lunch to kids even if they can’t pay, he still wanted to make a difference. 

So he set out to pay off all $19,000 of the district’s school lunch debt. It was a project his teacher, Tim Moore, assigned him called Project Citizen where each student was told to pick a local or national project, work on it throughout the year and then present it to the whole grade.

He focused on paying off the debt at three schools: Akins High School, Paredes Middle School, and Blazier Elementary because an AISD representative told him that these schools had the highest amount of debt in the district. 

“I’m sure that our parents are feeling not only very grateful but just appreciative and I’m sure in disbelief that a 14-year-old, an eighth-grader, thought to do this type of thing for students in the community, students he didn’t even know,” said Leti Peña, who is the principal at Blazier Elementary.

She said she had heard of what Hofer was doing, but didn’t know her school would be a beneficiary of money he had raised.

“It was really interesting ’cause I had just from our lunch manager received word of the kids that were going to be getting letters sent home for lunch debt and a day or two later I received an email that we were one of the schools that Ben had selected,” Peña said. “We were so excited that we were going to get to let our families know that they were no longer going to have to owe that debt.”

There are about 43 schools in the district that currently serve lunch free to all students through a federal grant, but that number will grow to 83 next school year. Akins High School, Paredes Middle School and Blazier Elementary — the schools Hofer raised money for — are among those that will start serving free lunch to students in the 2019-20 school year.

“I don’t know that Ben realizes this, but our families actually track into Paredes and into Akins High School, so it’s very possible that this gift actually benefited not just one child in a family but possibly two, three or four children in one family,” Peña said. ” I hope he really realizes how far this is going.”

Ben’s fundraiser even inspired others to donate to the district as well but in his name. Among those was Austin startup, Flyrite Chicken, whose owner donated a check of $1,000 to the district plus gave Hofer a badge that will allow him to get one free combo meal per month until he graduates high school.

“This makes me feel really good and makes me feel like I’ve helped a lot of people, I never thought I’d get this far,” Hofer said.

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