Singer John Legend donated $5,000 to a GoFundMe campaign to cover Seattle students’ school-meal debts.

Share story

Over the weekend, Jeff Lew received an email notification that someone named “John Stephens” had donated to Lew’s GoFundMe campaign created to cover Seattle students’ school-meal debts.

The amount: $5,000.

Lew was floored. But who was this “John Stephens”? A Google search result came up with the birth name of a man better known as Grammy-winning singer and songwriter John Legend.

The $5,000 donation is the largest amount contributed by a single donor to the campaign, which Lew created less than three weeks ago to cover the roughly $21,000 owed by students in Seattle’s 99 schools. As of Monday morning the campaign has raised $36,000.

Lew was skeptical, but he knew the student-meal debt story had been featured on national media, where a celebrity like John Legend could have seen it. Legend doesn’t have any ties to the area, but his wife, model Chrissy Teigen, grew up in Snohomish. He’ll also be performing at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville on Saturday and Sunday.

“I thought, ‘It could be him, let’s try sending him a personalized note,’” said Lew, who lives on Beacon Hill.

Lew sent an email through GoFundMe to the donor, ending it with “By the way, are you also known as John Legend? Regardless of who you are or not, thank you. You’ve helped a lot.” He soon received a reply, with the subject line: “Yes, it’s me.” The donor wrote that he had seen a story about the campaign on Twitter.

On Sunday evening, Legend responded to Lew’s tweet that thanked him for the donation.

“My pleasure! We should have free lunch for all of our public students!” Legend tweeted.

In Seattle, if a student owes $15 or more for meals, schools provide a modified meal. It’s not an extreme “lunch-shaming” practice that has sparked national outrage, but students could feel ashamed or embarrassed.

Lew created the campaign to make sure no student experiences that shame.

The additional money raised will go into a fund to cover future debts through the end of the school year and into the 2017-18 school year, Lew said.

In addition to the Seattle campaign — which also received a $5,000 donation from the Safeway Foundation — Lew created campaigns for Renton and Tacoma students. About 90 people have donated $4,000 for the Renton campaign, which has a goal of $18,000. Nearly 250 people have donated $14,000 of the $20,000 for the Tacoma campaign.

“It’s really cool to see that people care for this cause,” Lew said. “It’s really getting out there.”