Roy Exum: How To ‘Pay It Forward’

Wednesday, May 14, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

About 10 days ago in Michigan, a 16-year-old went to his high school cafeteria for lunch and he wanted to buy a $2.45 pizza. But because he only had $2.00 – and hadn’t paid $4.95 for a meal he ate last month -- the cafeteria worker tossed his just-cooked pizza in the garbage instead.

Horribly embarrassed in front of his classmates, he called his mom who promptly came and got him, signed him out of school, and took him to McDonald’s. Amanda Keown had no idea her son had a delinquent charge, according to a widely-circulated story in USA Today, so next she did the unthinkable: she went to school the very next day and paid off every delinquent lunch fee for very kid at Dowagiac High School.

It turns out there were 16 others who had outstanding balances – and it cost Amanda over $60 – and as I read about it I can only hope our schools aren’t treating kids like that.

School officials in Michigan told reporters they had mailed Mrs. Keown a letter advising her of her son’s delinquent charge and Mrs. Keown said that was true – it was postmarked on the same day her son’s pizza was thrown away.

School superintendent Mark Daniel issued a statement: “Although we do not encourage the charging of school lunches, Dowagiac Union Schools allow charging. Most schools across the nation have very strict policies that say if a child does not have the money, the child does not eat. We are proud to say we do NOT have this policy.”

While Supt. Daniel said the action was committed by a contract worker for food service vendor Sodexo, he said the lunch had to be discarded per health department rules. Had school employees been aware of the incident, he added, many would have made up the 45-cent difference for the student. It is widely known that teachers all across the country do this regularly.

Yet I believe it is a story that should be told. Not about the wonderful mother who covered everybody’s delinquent tab but as a reminder all of us should keep our eyes open for those among us who struggle. That’s what another kid in Michigan did last month when he saw an elementary school classmate put a hot lunch back and have to settle for a cheese sandwich.

Cayden Tailpalus is eight years old but he was haunted by the fact some kids don’t have enough money and are on the delinquent list at Challenger Elementary in the Howell Public School system. So he and his mom hatched a plan. They gathered up returnable bottles and empty cans from everybody they knew and Cayden then took $64 to school to wipe everybody’s slate clean.

Oh, everybody yelled and cheered. The school board honored the 8-year-old for his philanthropy and a Michigan Congressman even wrote him a letter. But – wait – there is more. As Cayden darted around seeking bottles and cans, his family learned of a website called “FundRazr” and it was soon learned everybody could eat hot meals if Cayden could come up with Thirty Grand.

He and his mother started a page called “Pay It Forward: No Kid Goes Hungry!” Well, after “ABC News” and the “Today” show got wind of Cayden’s next venture, the money started rolling in. At last report, he was about $2,000 shy of his $30,000 goal. Wow! One little guy sees a classmate put back a hot meal because he only had enough for a sandwich and now everybody eats something hot.

I am deeply touched by such tender acts. This week I, too, am trying to Pay It Forward by helping some Orange Grove clients go to summer camp. Every year some who suffer from severe physical and mental challenges get a week in the sun through a wonderful place called the Double G Ranch. But this year the funding fell shy and some “kids” – who have gone for as many as 30 years – must be left behind.

So I am asking my friends and readers to consider sending any gift of $1.00 or higher to “The GG Ranch Scholarship Fund” to help fund one week of bliss to somebody far less fortunate. Send your contribution to Camp Director Lizzy Cheek, c/o Orange Grove Center, 615 Derby Street, Chattanooga, TN 37404 (Note: Make the check payable to “Orange Grove Center” – its tax deductible.)

I have been made privy to the fact one of Chattanooga’s greatest institutions has just funded two scholarships (at $500 each) and know more donations have already been mailed. I also know there are five Orange Grove clients still on the waiting list and more would jump at the chance if their families knew they didn’t face yet another financial burden.

So we’ll keep plugging along every day this week because, like my pal David says, “This is a God investment.”

Let’s Pay It Forward the way a kind mother and an 8-year-old boy have already done in Michigan.

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