A week into the new school year, Josette Duran prepared lunch as usual for her son, Dylan, when he suddenly asked if she could pack a second one.
"I asked, 'Why? Are you not getting full? What’s going on?’ And he says, 'No, I’m getting full, but I want to take one for my friend,'" she recalled.
Dylan, an eighth-grader, had noticed that his classmate brought nothing more than a fruit cup every day and suspected he didn't have enough money to buy lunch.
“So I said sure, and ever since then, it became my normal,” Duran, 39, told TODAY.
For more than a month, she sent her son off to school with two lunches. That stopped last week when Dylan’s friend began receiving lunch under the federal reduced and free meal program.
“I stopped making two lunches last Wednesday, and it feels kind of lonely not making two anymore,” Duran said with a laugh.
The Albuquerque, New Mexico, single mother said she’s not surprised Dylan, 14, took it upon himself to help his new friend out.
“I was taught if you can’t be nice, then you be extra nicer, and I’ve always raised my son to be that way. I’ve always taught him to be kind and help others,” she said.
“Dylan really is the most kindhearted and loving kid. When he asked me to make two lunches, I just did it. I didn’t ask any questions because isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? We’re supposed to help people.”
Duran said she doubts the school knew about the boy’s financial situation until the child recently applied for the reduced meal program at her son's urging.
“That school would never let any child go hungry. They take care of everybody, but this little boy was probably too embarrassed. He didn’t want to speak up,” she said.
Duran speaks from personal experience.
“I was homeless a few years ago. I know how hard it is to ask for help. You get ashamed and feel embarrassed,” she said, adding that she also felt isolated from friends and loved ones “because we didn’t want anyone to know what was going on with us.”
Duran, a volleyball coach at her son's school, said she didn’t know much about Dylan's new friend until last week when she met him and his mother on campus. She admitted to initially being a little anxious.
“Because in this day and age, when you try to help somebody, some people get offended by it. People aren’t used to kindness,” she said. “So I was kind of scared. I didn’t want her (the mom) to think that I was stepping on her toes, or crossing boundaries, but she was very, very thankful and told me so. She told me how much she appreciated what we did.”
Some have questioned Duran's motives for packing the lunches, partially because she posted pictures of them on Facebook, but Duran said she was simply proud of her son and hoped it would encourage others to also give back. She said many critics don’t know anything about her or her son, who has been badly bullied in the past.
“We’ve been through some hardships together, so we know what that feels like and we don’t want no one else to feel that way, so we try to be proactive and help when we need to help," she said. "We don’t think twice about it.”
She hopes publicity surrounding her family's story will inspire others to lend a helping hand, no matter how small.
“It doesn’t have to do with lunch. It could just be saying ‘hi’ to someone, or opening the door or saying, ‘yes, ma’am’ or ‘no, ma’am,’” she said. “It’s just about practicing kindness whenever possible.”