Dad’s goal to pay off school lunch debt goes viral, raises $21,000

After reading several gut-wrenching stories about school “lunch shaming,” one determined dad went on a mission to ensure every student at his son’s school was debt-free.

In this Jan. 25, 2017, file photo, students fill their lunch trays at J.F.K Elementary School in Kingston, N.Y., where all meals are now free under the federal Community Eligibility Provision. A donor inspired by a tweet raised money to pay off lunch debt in districts around the country, as well as thousands of dollars in overdue lunch fees at other schools in the Kingston district.: ap-17026783940037.jpg© AP Photo/Mary Esch ap-17026783940037.jpg

Seattle parent Jeffery Lew found out the lunch debt at his third-grader’s school was $97.10. So, he started a GoFundMe page to find parents willing to help.

Within days, he met his goal. But he didn’t want to stop there.

Next up, Seattle Public Schools —  the largest K-12 school district in the state of Washington.

“Let’s try for it,” Lew thought. “If you don’t try for something you don’t know if it’s going to happen or not.”

screen-shot-2017-05-16-at-5-02-56-pm.png© Provided by CBS Interactive Inc. screen-shot-2017-05-16-at-5-02-56-pm.pngLew called the district and asked them how much they owed. They gave him a number: $20,531.79, which would cover the lunch debt at all 99 schools within the district.

The amount was higher than Lew expected, but it didn’t deter him.

He quickly got to work, posting links to his fundraising campaign on local Facebook pages and asking parents if they would be interested in donating. Within 24 hours, Lew raised $500. Over the weekend, the funds grew to nearly $3,000.

“It was a little bit overwhelming,” Lew told CBS News. “It was quite amazing that the community came together to tackle this. Some people would say, ‘This guy’s a hero,’ but I’m just a guy who went online.”

Seattle dad Jeff Lew started a campaign to erase school lunch debt, and it went viral.

As of Monday afternoon, Lew raised more than $22,000, enough to completely erase the school district’s lunch debt. Lee hopes that will help curb bullying at the schools.”If a kid doesn’t have enough money or owes money they may not end up getting a complete meal,” Lew said. “Kids can be cruel and make fun of them. That can be really harsh on a child. They don’t have a concept of what money is. No kid should go hungry because they don’t have any money. They should eat the same food their classmates are eating and not get shamed for that.”

Any leftover money will go toward other school districts in need, Lew said, explaining that he plans to set up separate funds for each district.

“I want to keep this cause spreading, give back any way we can,” Lew said. “Maybe we can cover the state of Washington or help other parents create campaigns for their school districts — bring this nationwide.”

Seattle Public Schools thanked Lew and hundreds of strangers for their generosity, which will benefit thousands of students.

“The recent parent-organized campaign to pay down school lunch debt for Seattle Public Schools reflects the generosity of our families and communities,” Seattle Public Schools said in an emailed statement to CBS News. “As a district, we are committed to partnering with families and communities to provide students the best educational experience. Part of that experience is making sure all of our students have access to a healthy breakfast and lunch, whether they have money to pay for meals at the time or not.”

Jennifer Earl


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