DeJuan Strickland is a 14-year-old in Missouri who is determined to eliminate lunch debt at schools near him via GoFundMe campaigns.
DeJuan Strickland is a 14-year-old from Missouri who just completed middle school, and is single-handedly doing a lot to combat food insecurity in and around his district. He is a child to a disabled single mother and their household income was low. When he was in fourth grade and studying at Missouri's McCurdy Elementary, he remembers not being able to eat lunch. That feeling of helplessness made him determined to ensure that no one at his former school would feel that way.
During a conversation with NewsBeat Now, DeJuan said, "I didn't even know what could possibly be my next meal in the day, and it was definitely a struggle. Seeing all the other kids around me being able to eat their school lunches and I couldn't, it was really tough. Sometimes a kid's only meal that they eat during the day is at school. If they don't have the money to pay for that, then that is a big problem."
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That's when he started his first GoFundMe with a goal to raise $200 for his Elementary School. He put the description of that GoFundMe as: "This is important to me because sometimes the only nutritious meal for kids is at school." He was able to gather $400 for McCurdy Elementary. The school's website also featured photos of DeJuan delivering the check for $400.
DeJuan told Good Morning America, "They told me stories about how kids–there was a kid who didn't have enough money to pay for school lunch or pay for the pizza, and they were able to pull it from the fund and they're able to have pizza at school that day. It was amazing, and I'm really happy." This pushed him to set his goals higher. He decided to work towards eliminating school lunch debts in the whole Hazelwood School District, which includes nineteen elementary schools, six middle schools, three high schools and some other educational programs.
As per the Education Data Initiative, an education research group, the national public school meal debt is $262 million each year.
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DeJuan has a strong sense of self and doing good for the community. He says that he got his kindness and compassion from his mother, who used to make "blessing bags" with essentials like toothpaste, toothbrush and socks for those who may need them. That's why the day he couldn't have a meal at school due to zero balance is etched in his memory and is also the reason he started with his high school.
DeJuan wonders why kids have to pay for meals at school when that isn't the case everywhere. Until he can figure out a way to change the system from the inside, he is going to keep helping them from the outside. This was the motivation behind starting another GoFundMe – Team Tech Boy Lunch Heroes Initiative. With respect to the future, he plans on attending M.I.T. to become a computer programmer.