Indianapolis man "pays it forward" in school cafeteria

Ryan Cox paid off $1,200 of delinquent lunch accounts at an Indianapolis school.
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Sometimes a single act of kindness can make a huge difference to a lot of people. That's the idea behind an Indianapolis man's mission to help children in need and pay it forward.

He's doing it a few dollars at a time.

It started simply enough at a Starbucks.

Every day, Ryan Cox pays for the order in the car behind him at the drive-thru. He knows it's not much, but it's a way for him to secretly make someone's day a little bit better.

"Another pay it forward done," he exclaimed, smiling at an Indianapolis Starbucks Wednesday.

But last Friday, Ryan's daily routine got a lot bigger, in a place where a $4 coffee isn't on the menu.

And definitely not in the budget.

Inspired by a friend, Ryan went to Lakeside Elementary with a plan to pay off overdue lunch accounts for families who'd fallen on hard times.

He made his pitch to cafeteria supervisor, Latiousha Smith.

"He was like, 'You know, I just want to come and pay someone's balance'," Smith explained, "and I was like, 'Okay, so what's your student's name?'"

"I said, 'Well I have a few nephews who go here, but their accounts aren't delinquent. I just want to pay random accounts'," Ryan told her.

Smith was stunned.

"Said 'Are you sure? I mean, like, do you really, I mean, like, what?'," she said.

"In the process of all that, I said, 'What's the total amount due? Because I'm gonna come back next week and I'm gonna pay the full balance'," Ryan said.

"The whole school. The whole school. $1,200-plus dollars. That's simply amazing," Smith said through tears. "It's a big deal. It means a lot to the children and they have no idea they're being blessed like this."

Ryan reached out on social media and right away people, lots of them, started to give.

Through his donation site, he received nearly $1,000 in five days, all to make sure kids wouldn't have to worry about their lunch money.

"We're excited," said Lakeside Principal Jeff Hoog. "It's really big when you talk about what small things can do for people. They really add up."

And Ryan's act of kindness may have meant the most to Latiousha Smith, who cares for the kids at Lakeside like a parent, every day.

"Can I hug you?," she asked Ryan when she spotted him Wednesday. "Thank you so much! You did good! He gave back! And I feel pretty good, too."

Turns out paying it forward is about more than helping your target. It's a lesson, that spreads to everyone who learns about it.

"It just feels good to do something good," Ryan said. "This is just a bunch of good people doing a little bit more good."

Learn more about Ryan's mission