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Vista girl, 5, pays off lunch balances for more than 100 students

VISTA — More than 100 students and their families at Vista Unified School District saw their balances wiped cleaned recently after a kindergartener personally paid it off.

Breeze Hill Elementary School student Katelynn Hardee raised a total of $78 to pay off the school lunch balances for 123 students. Katelynn’s mother, Karina Hardee, said her daughter raised the money by selling hot cocoa and cookies, as well as, selling an art piece she created.

Karina Hardee said her daughter came up with the idea to fundraise for her peers after she overheard another mother say she had a difficult time paying for an after-school program.

“I explained some aren’t as fortunate as us and it is kind to give when we can,” Karina said.  “She asked if we could do a hot cocoa and cookies stand. I said, ‘Let’s do it’ and all proceeds would go to charity.”

The mother and daughter team sold and decorated holiday-themed cookies and donated the earnings to pay the school lunch balance for students within Vista Unified School District.

Katelynn, who said she hopes to someday be a teacher, said knowing she was able to help others made her “happy.”

“It is the best feeling in the world,” said Karina Hardee, who also has a son. “If I can raise my two kiddos to be kind and compassionate human beings, I have done my job. My husband and I are so proud.”

The 5-year-old was also presented with an award by Breeze Hill Elementary School Principal Lori Higley for her efforts.

“Because of her generosity, 123 students in the Vista Unified School District had their account balances paid off,” said Jamie Phillips, director of child nutrition services for Vista Unified School District. “It is truly inspiring to see Katelynn’s compassion and generous nature utilized to help those less fortunate. Students like Katelynn embody the mission and values of Vista Unified School District.”

Phillips said school lunch balances accumulate throughout the year. If a balance goes unpaid, the district’s general fund typically pays the remaining balance although some donations alleviate the cost. Last year, roughly $20,000 went unpaid, Phillips said.

Karina Hardee, who said they plan to host more fundraisers with the help of the Vista community, said she hopes her daughter’s efforts will raise awareness about the need for help.

“It breaks my heart,” Karina Hardee said. “But we all can do a little bit to make our community a better place. Kindness spreads and it spreads fast.”

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