A Clark County second-grader is working to make the world a little bit kinder, one bead at a time.
Keoni Ching, an 8-year-old at Vancouver’s Benjamin Franklin Elementary School, is selling keychains made of lettered beads to pay off his classmates’ outstanding balances on their lunch accounts. The customized trinkets go for $5 apiece, unless they’re Seahawks-themed, in which case the price is $19.77. Keoni is a Dolphins fan, his mom, April Ching, said.
In less than a month, he’s raised $840 in sales and donations and is pushing toward $1,000, April Ching said.
“If they don’t have enough money, that’s money there,” Keoni said as he started on a new keychain, this one reading “Pizza.”
A national spotlight has turned toward lunch debt in recent years. In Washington, a 2018 change to state law requires school districts to feed students a hot meal, regardless of whether they have money in their lunch accounts. And while school nutrition directors agree that all students should be fed, the effect is that school districts can rack up thousands of dollars in unpaid meals by the end of the school year.
Wealthy donors and corporations have cut large checks to districts across the country to ease the strain — and small donors, like little Keoni.
“That makes the world a better place,” he said.
Franklin Elementary School this month will celebrate its Fourth Annual Kindness Week, a celebration of all things nice at the Vancouver Public Schools campus. Keoni, who’s enrolled in the school’s Mandarin immersion program, was brainstorming projects for the week with his family last month.
“He’s always been that kindhearted kid,” his dad, Barry Ching said.
As it turns out, it was a former Seahawk, Richard Sherman, who was the inspiration for the keychains. Sherman made $27,000 worth of donations in November to districts in Washington and California to pay off students’ lunch debt.
“(Keoni) said, ‘I’m going to do as much as I can,’ ” April Ching said. ” ‘Everyone at the school is my friend, and I want to pay off their lunch ticket.’ ”
April Ching has been offering plenty of help to her son along the way, stamping letters on wooden blocks, tying knots too tough for Keoni and purchasing boxes on boxes of charms.
She’s also been his hype woman on social media, posting a video of her son showing off his wares and taking orders from buyers. Most overwhelming has been those who tell her they’re supporting him because they were once that kid who couldn’t afford school lunch.
“To know what an impact that might have on someone as they get older, that’s pretty huge,” she said.
The way April Ching tells it, this is just a continuation of their son’s nature. She called Keoni “the sweetest child,” who is “very in tune with people.”
Still, mom and dad are to be credited for some of that: They’ve long tried to instill a sense of kindness in Keoni and his 3-year-old brother, Kaleo. They do volunteer work and are actively involved in their church. When Keoni was bullied at school, they encouraged him to never respond in anger. After all, she said, you never know what people are going through.
“Be kind and do things for other people,” she said. “That will always make you happy.”