A little boy from Washington state is doing his part to eliminate his school’s outstanding lunch debt — one keychain at a time.
Keoni Ching has helped wipe more than $4,000 worth of cafeteria debt in his Vancouver community after he recently launched a handmade key chain project for his school’s “Kindness Week,” CNN reported.
With the help of his parents, April and Barry Ching, and his grandparents, the 8 year old has created over 300 key chains, which he sells for $5 each, according to the outlet.
In total, Keoni has earned a whopping $4,015 — a sum that will go towards the lunch debt of his school, Benjamin Franklin Elementary, as well as six others — all thanks to his appreciation of key chains and desire to help those in need.
“I love key chains. They look good on my backpack,” Keoni told CNN, adding that he wanted to help others because “it just makes the world a better place.”
Though Keoni is a proud Miami Dolphins fan, it turns out his project was actually inspired by San Francisco 49ers player Richard Sherman, who also paid off more than $27,000 of school lunch debt for students in need, his mom April tells PEOPLE.
“My husband and I had been talking about Richard Sherman and the kindness he showed by paying off school lunch debt,” she explains. “It was more the act than the man. Keoni was just inspired by Richard Sherman because of what he did.”
It wasn’t just Sherman, according to April, who says her son has “always been a very kind and generous kid” with a passion to help others.
“He seriously has the biggest heart!” she raves. “We have tried so hard to teach him that if you are kind to others you will always be happy. The best part is that everyone around us encourages kindness and that just makes Keoni want to be kind even more.”
Alongside his family, the boy began working on the custom beaded designs, which range from beloved movie characters to team names to favorite phrases. What started as a simple way to help the students at his school has now developed into a nationwide project, his mom explained.
“We have sent key chains to Alaska, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Arizona, all over the country,” April told CNN. “There was one lady who said she wanted $100 worth of key chains so that she could just hand them out to people.”
“There were several people who bought one key chain and gave [Keoni] a hundred bucks,” she added. “It was absolutely amazing how much support the community showed for his whole project.”
On Jan. 31, Keoni finally got to present his school with a check for $4,015. Standing beside the massive check that appeared to be as big as the 8-year-old boy, he couldn’t help but beam for his job well done.
Though Benjamin Franklin Elementary only owed $500 in lunch debt, Keoni gave them $1,000 so that they could pay off the balance and account for any future debt that may build up, according to CNN.
The remaining amount from his key chain sales was divided between six other nearby schools, each of which will get $500 to eliminate their lunch debts and help families in need, the outlet reported.
“Lunches here are about $2,” Benjamin Franklin Elementary Principal Woody Howard told CNN. “But if you have two or three kids and for whatever reason, you’ve missed [paying for] a week of lunch or breakfasts, that adds up pretty quickly.”
“This type of a gift takes a little bit of pressure off of your family,” Howard added to the outlet.
According to the School Nutrition Association, 75% of responding districts reported having unpaid student meal debt at the end of the 2017/18 school year. The SNA said that percentage has “increased substantially,” citing that the median amount of unpaid meal debt per district rose by 70% since the 2012/13 school year.
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In 2018, three-quarters of the 5 billion lunches served in school cafeterias were also offered at a free or reduced price, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported.
For Keoni’s part in helping eliminate that debt, April says she and her husband are “so incredibly proud of him, but know it is our entire village of people.”
“We have the most amazing friends and family who have rallied to support him and our entire community has supported his goal. This absolutely has been a group effort,” she says, noting that Keoni’s work is not yet done.
“Keoni is really excited to keep making and selling keychains,” she adds. “He wants to buy a new computer, so he would like to keep some of the money from new sales and donate more money to Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in Portland, Oregon.”