The parent of a child in the Seattle Public Schools district has raised enough money to erase the school lunch debt at three of the largest public school districts in Washington.
Seattle resident and Seattle Public Schools graduate Jeffrey Lew has launched online fundraising campaigns to eliminate the lunch debt at five Washington school districts and has raised enough money to pay off the debts in the Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane school districts.
“It feels great to get the awareness out about lunch debt and lunch shaming, but the mission’s not done till we find a permanent solution, till we end lunch debt for good,“ Lew told NBC News.
Lew previously told NBC News he was inspired to create a fundraiser after reading a news article about “school lunch shaming,” where students who don’t have enough money to pay for lunch are denied food, singled-out with stamps or wrist bands, or are given an alternate meal.
Last month, he started a crowdfunding campaign to cover the debt at his son’s school, which was $97.10. He then expanded the goal to erase the debt of Seattle Public Schools, which totaled $20,000. That goal was met in about five days, Lew said. He increased the goal for the Seattle campaign to $50,000 to cover future lunch debt and went on to launch similar campaigns for the Tacoma, Renton, Spokane, and Clover Park school districts.
So far, Lew’s campaigns have raised a combined total of more than $93,000.
Among notable donors to the campaigns include singer-songwriter John Legend, the Safeway Foundation, the Seattle Seahawks football team, and America’s Credit Union, which donated more than $7,000 to the Tacoma campaign and asked Lew to help launch a fundraiser for Clover Park.
Lew said his ultimate goal for the campaigns is to completely eradicate lunch debt and lunch shaming.
In the United States, 76 percent of school districts have outstanding student lunch debt, according to a 2016 School Nutrition Association survey. In the Spokane, Renton, Clover Park, and Tacoma school districts, more than half of students in each respective district receive free or reduced-price meals, according to reports by the Washington state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction; in Seattle, more than one-third of students in the district receive free or reduced-price meals.
As each campaign meets its respective goals, Lew raises the target amount to give districts additional funds to pay off future lunch debt.
“Lunch debt is going to add up because we don’t have a solution,” he said.
He added that adjusting the goal buys more time to find a permanent solution to the lunch debt problem.
Lew’s campaigns have inspired similar efforts, including one to erase the lunch debt of Everett School District, which surpassed its goal in less than a month.
Although Lew’s fundraising efforts have and continue to receive substantial support, he hopes not to have to launch another campaign, he said.
“I hope lawmakers out there are seeing this coverage. I’m ready and willing to talk to people if they reach out. I’m passionate about this because I can’t imagine my kid having an alternate meal. I want to help find a permanent solution, not just stop because we raised enough money.”