Dad Raises $23K To Pay Off All The Lunch Debt In Seattle Schools

by Jerriann Sullivan
Originally Published: 

‘No child should be lunch shamed ever’

Fed up with children being shamed at lunch, a Seattle dad has raised more than $23,000 to help kids in Washington eat meals with just a little less stress.

In more than 75% of school districts across America, there are students who rely on their school to provide lunch at least some of the time. Their parents simply don’t make enough money. In Seattle, 36% of kids attending public schools qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Children are still given lunch, but a debt account is created, and an invoice is sent to their parents to pay for their meals. “It broke my heart after reading about how some students are getting their lunch trays full of food tossed in the garbage can in front of their classmates,” Jeff Lew told Scary Mommy. He started a GoFundMe campaign to pay off the total debt for all students. “Some students had to clean lunch tables to pay off their debt,” he said. “No child should go hungry due to not having money.”

In addition to being hungry and unable to pay for their lunch, many students are stigmatized for being part of the lunch programs at their schools. In some school districts, students have had their lunch taken away and replaced with a brown paper bag that has a cold cheese sandwich and a small milk inside. “Some kids can be cruel and make fun of classmates,” Lew explained. “So if a kid is given a brown bag lunch containing a cold cheese sandwich and milk but others are having the regular hot lunch, kids could make fun of the brown bag kid for not having money or even calling them poor.”

Before high school, I attended a Catholic school thanks to a scholarship and the fact that my grandparents helped build the school. The hot lunches were too expensive for my family, and other students constantly asked why I never got hot lunch. I’d turn bright red and say “I don’t know” but kids are curious (and cruel), so the questioning never stopped. “No child should be lunch shamed ever (from classmate and/or school staff) due to not having money or in debt,” Lew said. “Kids should eat the same lunches and not have partial meals.”

His original goal was to pay off the total debt at his child’s school, which was $97.10. “As a parent and graduate of the Seattle Public Schools, I am trying to help ease the burden of these families and make sure these children get to eat a nutritious meal each day at school,” he shared. Seattle Public Schools total lunch debt was $20,531.79, which Lew surpassed by speaking out about his fundraising goals. As of Tuesday night, he had raised $23,738 and has launched two more campaigns to help even more kids in other districts. He’s hoping to raise enough money to pay off the lunch debt in the Renton and Tacoma school districts in Washington. He also inspired a friend and former coworker Sarah Lenaburg to start her own campaign to help pay off the student lunch debt in the Everett School District, which is outside of Seattle.

“The response has been very positive and I am super proud of the community for coming together for a great cause,” Lew said. “We all did it together!”

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