March 3, 2014— -- An 8-year-old's "heart of gold" has touched people all over the world with a campaign he recently launched to help pay for lunches of students from low-income families.
Donations have increased tenfold since Cayden Taipalus –- a third-grader at Challenger Elementary School -- launched a campaign two weeks ago called "Pay It Forward: No Kid Goes Hungry." His mom, Amber Peters, said nearly $7,000 worth of donations have purchased hot lunches for more than 300 students with plans to reach another 5,000 this week.
"I am so very proud of my son," Peters told ABC News today. "He is only 8 years old and to grasp the concept around this is just amazing in my eyes. He has a heart of gold."
Cayden started the campaign after seeing another student at his elementary school in Howell, Mich., struggle to pay for their lunch.
"Cayden was in school buying his lunch and the little boy in front of him had to put down his hot lunch due to no funds on his lunch account," his mom said about the encounter on Feb. 17. "It upset the little boy, which in turn upset Cayden."
Cayden and his mom started recycling cans and bottles to raise money until friends and neighbors saw their efforts on Facebook and wanted to pitch in. The outreach skyrocketed to the point where people in Hong Kong were making donations.
"We went form just paying off his elementary school to paying off the entire Livingston County," his mom said.
Cayden personally delivers the money to each school before going to class in the morning. His first donation was $64 that paid for nearly 150 lunches, his mom said.
"Doing something little can turn into something big and go a long way. Paying it forward is a big deal," she said.
School officials said every student is offered an alternate lunch that includes a sandwich, juice and fruit when they can't afford the hot lunch options. Nearly 30 percent of students in Livingston County are enrolled for free- or reduced-priced lunch, a federal program offered to students from low-income families.
"What Cayden is doing is very generous and it shows how caring all of our students are," said Thomas Gould, director of public relations for Howell Public Schools. "It's also important to know that all of our kids are offered lunch no matter what."
"They are sitting there with a cheese sandwich on their plate when the child next to them is having French toast, milk, juice." Peters said, noting some kids may not be bothered by it while others are. "The idea is to remove the negative stigma."
Her son is shrugging off the attention, Peters said, as long as students keep getting fed.
"He just sees that the money equals lunches for the children," she said.
Their efforts don't rely on recognition from families that benefit from the campaign, Peters said, nothing that giving back is enough.
"I didn't even ask Cayden for a name [of the boy who inspired the campaign]. I don't want to make somebody look different. Our target focus is on reduced lunches," she said.