Two sisters in North Carolina have helped to wipe out tens of thousands of dollars of student lunch debt, mainly by selling lemonade.
Hailey Hager, 14, and Hannah Hager, 11, held their first lemonade stand two years ago to help raise money for the hospice center that took care of their grandfather.
The next year, they spent their summer selling lemonade to buy toiletry products to give to homeless people.
This year, just as they were deciding which cause to support with their lemonade sales, their mom, Erin Hager, was notified, along with other parents, about a desperate need to pay off students' lunch debt at local schools.
Inspired by their own classmates in need, the Hager sisters decided to spend their summer selling lemonade to help pay off the debt.
"I knew about one kid in my class who would always ask other kids for snacks and stuff because she didn't want to have to charge it," said Hannah, a sixth grade student in Lexington, North Carolina. "She came up to me and said, 'Hannah would your lemonade stand be able to pay this off because I don't want to have to show my mom this paper because she's going to be really mad because I already had lunch debt and she can't pay it.'"
Hannah and Hailey's lemonade stand outside their family's home got a boost one day early in the summer when a motorcyclist happened to be one of their two customers that day (the other customer being their own grandfather).
The motorcyclist, a stranger, brought back more of his motorcycle buddies the next weekend and from there, Hailey and Hannah started selling their lemonade at Harley Davidson stores as well as local festivals and outdoor markets.
The sisters named their lemonade venture Hailey and Hannah's Helping Hands. Their energy inspired other community members and local businesses to start making donations of their own to help pay off students' lunch debt.
Hailey, an eighth grader, and Hannah started the summer with the goal of paying off some of their two schools' combined nearly $8,000 debt.
Their effort grew so big they quickly decided to tackle the student lunch debt for the entire school district, which at its peak totaled over $40,000. That number is now down to about $15,000, according to a spokesperson for Davidson County Schools.
"We are beyond proud in Davidson County Schools to have Hailey and Hannah Hager in our student population," the spokesperson said in a statement. "These young ladies saw a need and responded with unrivaled effort. Obviously, as educators we are delighted when we see our students achieve academically, but the compassion and caring spirit these girls demonstrate are what we consider to be real success. Their passion has inspired an entire community to respond to a variety of student needs in our district."
The community can keep track of where the sisters' lemonade stands will pop up via a Facebook page that Hager runs for her daughters' venture. Throughout the summer months, the Hager sisters have always been somewhere in their community selling lemonade.
"The hardest part is squishing the lemons and we could be at home playing or doing other things but instead we're out there in the heat," said Hannah. "[I hope people see] that anybody at any age can make a difference."
The sisters and their mom keep a countdown running at home of what remains of the student lunch debt. Hager is also in frequent contact with school officials.
"At this point I'm humbled and flabbergasted and I think anything is possible," she said. "This has showed a lot of people how amazing community support can be and that there are good people."
Hailey and Hannah attribute their altruism to Hager, who started a random acts of kindness challenge with them last February and has kept it going ever since.
"We learned kindness from her," Hailey said .
The sisters believe they will be able to pay off the remaining $15,000 of student lunch debt and plan to continue to sell lemonade with a new goal in mind, helping to cover the costs of students' field trips.
"My idea was to help pay for field trips because one year I had a friend who couldn't go on the field trip because of the cost," Hailey said.