The Seattle campaign’s message — no student should be punished for not having enough money to pay for a meal at school — resonated far beyond the district.
When Seattle parent Jeff Lew decided to try to wipe out $20,531.79 in lunch debt accrued by students in Seattle’s 99 public schools, he wasn’t sure he would reach the target.
Less than a month later, he’s raised more than double that for Seattle, and started similar GoFundMe campaigns for three other school districts, two of which have met their goals as well.
To date, about 700 donors have contributed $45,390 for the Seattle campaign. The Tacoma campaign has generated $22,075, surpassing its $20,000 goal. The campaign for Spokane, which was $1,668, met its goal in two days. The Renton campaign is about halfway toward its goal of $18,000.
The campaigns’ message — no student should be punished for not having enough money to pay for a meal at school — resonated far beyond the Seattle area.
Along with a donation of $5,000 from Grammy-winning singer John Legend, who gave to the Seattle campaign, the Seahawks donated $1,000 to the campaign for Renton, where the team’s headquarters is located. TopGolf CEO Erik Anderson gave about $12,000 in total to all four campaigns.
“I’m just very thankful for everyone,” said Lew, who lives in Seattle’s Beacon Hill neighborhood. “And it’s still going strong.”
Seattle Public Schools hasn’t received its donation yet, but the funds will go toward paying the current debt and then carry over into the next year, said district spokesman Luke Duecy.
In Seattle, schools provide modified meals, like milk and vegetables, for students if they owe more than $15 in their school-meal account.
That’s not the kind of “lunch shaming” that’s occurred in other states, but Lew and other campaign supporters have said they worry that kids could feel singled-out or embarrassed. That’s especially true for children who might already be in a living situation without a lot of resources, said Anderson, who is also founder and CEO of the Kirkland-based WestRiver Group.
“It’s a terrible thing to put young people who are having challenges in that setting,” the Spokane native said. “Particularly in a school setting, where they should feel uplifted and embraced.”
For Lew, the campaigns came with an unexpected bonus. After seeing the donation from John Legend last week, Lew sent a message to the celebrity, saying he hoped to one day thank him in person. Unbeknown to Lew, Legend was playing a concert that weekend at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville. After the sold-out show, Lew and his wife got to meet Legend and thank him. It was a quick meeting, but Legend told them “good job on the donations” and Lew’s wife gave him a homemade card.
“He’s a very down-to-Earth, nice guy,” Lew said of Legend, whose wife, Chrissy Teigen, grew up in Snohomish.
The campaigns are still open, and new donations will go toward paying off any future debt, Lew said. He acknowledges some parents might take advantage of that system, but that his first priority is making sure kids are fed.
“These kids are my priority,” he said. “They’re not my kids, but I want to take care of them. My mission isn’t done yet.”