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Local Hero of the Month: NC sisters tackle lunch debt of entire school district with lemonade stand

MSN Causes logoMSN Causes 7/29/2019
Hailey Hager, 14, gives her sister, Hannah Hager, 11, a lift in front of their charity lemonade stand, Hailey and Hannah's Helping Hands. © Hailey and Hannah's Helping Hands Hailey Hager, 14, gives her sister, Hannah Hager, 11, a lift in front of their charity lemonade stand, Hailey and Hannah's Helping Hands.

MSN is pleased to honor Hailey and Hannah Hager as July’s Local Heroes of the Month. The kindness and determination these Lexington, N.C. sisters have shown to pay off their district’s school lunch debt has rippled throughout their community and beyond. As this month’s Local Heroes, we are holding a fundraiser on MSN to help them reach their goals. They will also receive a Surface Go to keep their mission on the go. Please join us in making a donation to their nonprofit organization, Hailey and Hannah’s Helping Hands.

Hailey and Hannah Hager are living proof that helping others is addictive. What started as a weekend lemonade stand in their driveway that raised $60 for the hospice that cared for their grandfather has turned into an ambitious mission to pay off $41,000 in lunch debt for their North Carolina school district.

After their grandfather passed away in 2016, Hailey, 14, and Hannah, 11, wanted to look for other people to help. So they reached out to a local homeless shelter, inquired about its needs, and set a goal of raising $100 to put together supply kits. Instead of raising $100, they made $208 that funded 30 kits – and the girls had officially caught the kindness bug.

Soon after, they heard that Hannah’s school, Southwood Elementary, had $3,100 in student lunch debt it was hoping to pay off before the end of the year. While the Davidson County School District is intent on not “shaming” students who fail to pay lunch money owed to the USDA as part of the National School Lunch Program, it is nonetheless challenged to find the funds in its existing budget and was considering diverting money from playground improvements.

The sisters knew they had their next mission.

Selling $1 cups of fresh-squeezed lemonade and $5 lunch-lemonade combos, Hailey and Hannah set up shop again over a weekend in May. With $460 in lemonade sales, including contributions from a benevolent biker club, combined with $2,000 in donations from two area churches and a Facebook fundraiser, they were able to erase the debt of Southwood Elementary. “The school really appreciated it,” Hannah said.

Hailey and Hannah Hager (center, in white t-shirts) pose in front of their lemonade stand with the Iron Order motorcycle club of North Carolina, which paid the sisters a visit to contribute to their lunch debt fundraiser in May 2019. © Hailey and Hannah's Helping Hands Hailey and Hannah Hager (center, in white t-shirts) pose in front of their lemonade stand with the Iron Order motorcycle club of North Carolina, which paid the sisters a visit to contribute to their lunch debt fundraiser in May 2019.

As Hailey and Hannah have moved on to tackle the rest of the Davidson Country School District, their parents, Erin and Nicky Hager, have helped them take their lemonade stand to new levels. They purchased and outfitted a concession trailer sold to them at wholesale cost by a local dealer. It’s now equipped with everything from professional lemon squeezers and food service gloves to cheery yellow and white lemon-printed aprons. To help manage the cash flow and make it truly legitimate, they registered Hailey and Hannah’s Helping Hands as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

Hailey and Hannah Hager with friends in their new concession trailer. The sisters say they are often joined by friends who come to help, so they don't feel like they're missing out too much on summer fun. © Hailey and Hannah's Helping Hands Hailey and Hannah Hager with friends in their new concession trailer. The sisters say they are often joined by friends who come to help, so they don't feel like they're missing out too much on summer fun.

Erin Hager says she always tried to instill in her daughters a duty to spread positivity in the world. In 2018, their home in Lexington, N.C. was badly flooded by Hurricane Florence and the family found themselves in need of financial help. Erin says they started a GoFundMe page, but no one donated. So she was determined, she says, “to teach them that there is always room to bless others and everyone needs something sometime.”

© Hailey and Hannah's Helping Hands For Hailey and Hannah, this summer they’ve been in high demand. In between farmers markets, other local events and trips to West Virginia to visit their ailing grandmother, they were invited to sell lemonade at the Threshers Reunion in Denton, N.C., a 5-day historical farming festival, that enabled them to cross at least three more schools off their list. “These two young ladies provide a shining example of the qualities that make our world a better place,” Davidson County School District spokesperson Tabitha Broadway wrote in an email. “Hailey and Hannah serve as an inspiration, not only to their peers, but to all of us in Davidson County Schools.”

At the time of this story publication, they are just under $24,000 away from meeting their summer goal. As for what’s going to happen once they’ve fresh squeezed their way to a complete list of paid lunch debts, Hannah and Hailey would like to return to helping the homeless, with a focus on kids in need of school supplies. And their long-term goals are firm, according to Hannah: “Finish this mission and find another one!”

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