INDIANAPOLIS — When Ryan Cox, 30, picks up his regular Starbucks order of a Venti hot chocolate and custom-designed espresso drink, he often pays the tab for the person behind him.
Early last month, he went home and posted about his act of largesse on Facebook.
A slew of "likes" followed. One friend, though, sent him a personal message.
Rather than picking up the tab for grownups already prepared to spend money at Starbucks, why not help impoverished kids, asked Cheyane Bradley of Greenfield, Ind.
Bradley, 29, had been doing that for children with delinquent lunch accounts at her child's school. She was spurred to action after reading about children elsewhere who were refused hot lunch because they couldn't pay.
"I know coffee pay-it-forward is something nice for adults; these are kids that are helpless," Bradley said. "Five dollars for coffee is considered a treat. For these kids, this is a meal and sometimes we take that for granted."
Not Cox. The next week he was at Lakeside Elementary School, his nephew's school, to chaperone a field trip. While there he decided to pay off $100 worth of delinquent accounts. Then he thought, "Why stop there?"
He asked how much it would cost to erase all the delinquent accounts. Just $1,326. I'll be back in a week, said Cox, who works in marketing.
"I have always tended to be someone that tried to do a little extra," he said. "It's just putting more good into the world than bad."
Erasing lunch debt is not isolated to Indianapolis. Earlier this month, a Detroit area mother paid off the lunch debt of students at her son's school after her son's debt of about $5 kept him from a hot meal.
Also, Cox confesses, he wanted to outdo Bradley.
So, he took to the social media airwaves, posting on Facebook, blogging and Tweeting about his plans.
But most of the people who donated were friends of friends. The vast majority saw his plea on Facebook.
Once Cox had taken care of the Lakeside balances, he had money left and more coming in. Some gave as little as $5; one person a $1,000. Most gave around $25, he said.
Next, he went to the school that Bradley's daughter attends. Then, to two more elementary schools.
Word of his generosity had already spread around the Warren Township Schools by the time Cox approached his grade school. Principal Betsy Snapp was not surprised when he contributed more than $700 to wipe out the debt at Grassy Creek Elementary.
"I imagine it helps to relieve a lot of pressure for parents who may have stressful financial situations," she said. "It's just one less bill that they would have to worry about paying."
At her school, children with delinquent lunch accounts still get the hot lunch.
But at other schools children receive a brown bag with either a cheese or PBJ sandwich, which labels them as owing money.
So, Cox has no intention of stopping at the $4,349.93 he's raised. He's planning to start a non-profit, Feed the Kids and is in the process of putting together a website. For the time being, people can donate through his personal website, www.theryancox.com.
"The grand vision is that we could wipe out delinquent accounts at schools, so every kid in America would have a hot lunch every single day they go to school," he said. "I'm pretty social and have never flexed my social muscle. This was one of those things like an 'Oh, Wow' moment and this took off."
And Cox still sometimes picks up the tab for a stranger at Starbucks.