One day when DeJuan Strickland was in fourth grade, he didn’t have the money for school lunch. “That really kind of stuck with me,” DeJuan, now 15, told TIME for Kids. This year, DeJuan, who goes by DJ, raised money on the GoFundMe website. “I wanted to do something to make sure other kids don’t have to feel that same way.”
DJ’s goal was to raise $200 to help parents in his community pay for their kids’ school meals. In less than two weeks, he raised $400. He went back to his old school, McCurdy Elementary, in Florissant, Missouri. He presented the principal with a check.
Now DJ is raising money to support the entire Hazelwood School District. That includes more than 30 schools. “Sometimes, school lunch is the only meal a kid can depend on,” he writes on his latest GoFundMe page. “Food insecurity is a huge issue, and I am doing what I can to combat it.”
As of September 23, donations to DJ’s fundraising campaigns totaled nearly $10,000.
Enough to Eat
Food insecurity affected more than 44 million people in the United States in 2022. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Families who experience it don’t always have enough to eat. This can affect kids’ health. And it can affect their success in school.
Many kids rely on school meals, which families can struggle to pay for. When that happens, schools might provide meals and let families pay later. A report by the School Nutrition Association shows that unpaid school meal debt in the U.S. topped $19 million in 2022.
This school year, six states—Colorado, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, and Vermont—have made school meals free for all public school students, regardless of their family’s income. These states follow a standard set by California and Maine. Lawmakers in other states, including Missouri, where DJ lives, are thinking about doing the same.
“It’s kind of weird that [school meals] are free in some areas and not in others,” DJ says. But he’s hopeful that things are heading in the right direction. “In the future, maybe school lunch will be free everywhere.”
DJ is now a freshman in high school. He keeps busy playing football and running Team Tech Boy, a business he started when he was 12 to encourage kids’ interest in STEM. And he has written two STEM-themed comic books, Tech Boy and Science Girl. For college, DJ hopes to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “I plan to become a computer programmer and video-game developer,” he says.
At the moment, DJ and his mom are working to set up a nonprofit organization to tackle food insecurity and other issues that affect young people. “We want to do more initiatives” like the lunch-money fundraiser, he says. “But on a larger scale.”
“Giving back really just kind of warms my heart,” DJ says. “The fact that I’ve been able to impact people’s lives in a positive way gives me a really good feeling.”
Next month, we’ll feature Service Stars who are raising money for good causes. Could you be one of these kids? Click here for ideas about how you can organize and promote a fundraiser in your community.