"We just wanted to show love and help out others," Hannah Hager tells PEOPLE
lunch debt

Hailey and Hannah Hager have always loved to give back.

The Lexington, North Carolina sisters sell lemonade to raise money to pay off the school lunch debt for their entire district. So far, Hailey, 14, and Hannah, 11, have raised thousands to settle the debts at 18 of the 36 schools in the district, but they’re eager to pay off the full amount of over $41,000.

“We just wanted to show love and help out others,” Hannah tells PEOPLE. “It was kind of sad because we bring our lunches and we have food, but then you hear about these other kids that don’t have enough money to get food. Some kids we saw were asking for snacks from other people because they didn’t have enough money to buy food.”

Their efforts began in 2016, when the girls worked to raise money to donate to the hospice center that cared for their late grandfather. Next, they raised more than $200 and made care packages for homeless members of their community.

“We just wanted to look for more ways to help others in need and show kindness,” Hannah says. “We wanted to raise $100 to buy a hundred items to make homeless kits. We made around 30 homeless kits!”

With that, the girls set their sights on lunch debt.

lunch debt
Hailey (left) and Hannah Hager
lunch debt
Hailey and Hannah Hager

In May, the sisters learned that Southwood Elementary School, where Hannah attends, desperately needed to pay off lunch debt of about $3,500, the girls’ mother, Erin Hager, tells PEOPLE. They set up a Facebook fundraiser, with donors giving over $2,000 in just a few days.

They even paid off over $4,000 in lunch debt for Hailey’s school, Central Davidson Middle School, thanks to lemonade sales and donations from a local church and individual donors.

“When you think about how much people are suffering and don’t have food and don’t have the things they need, it makes you feel bad,” Hannah says. “It makes us feel happy that we’re helping people in need.”

lunch debt
The Hager sisters’ lemonade stand
| Credit: Hager Family

Erin says the girls didn’t initially set out to take on the entire school district’s lunch debt.

“It’s been a really big feat to take it all on,” she tells PEOPLE. “I never in a million years thought that we would be able to, or even come close to what we’ve done. It’s pretty incredible.”

Hannah and Hailey share updates on their efforts on their Facebook page, aptly titled Hailey and Hannah’s Helping Hands. They’ve set up fundraisers, and photos show the girls smiling alongside their friends at the lemonade stand.

And as beneficial as it has been for the community, Hannah and Hailey say the effort has been a blast for them too.

“It’s let us spend some time together and it’s been kind of an adventure. It’s been really fun!” Hannah tells PEOPLE.

Hailey hilariously adds: “It’s been awesome, but Hannah is a bit bossy!”