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Father's mission to pay off school lunch debt in Seattle inspires kindness from strangers

Fundraising efforts in Seattle, Everett, and Marysville have significantly eased school lunch debts for thousands of kids across the region. (Photo: KOMO News)

SEATTLE – Fundraising efforts in Seattle, Everett, and Marysville have significantly eased school lunch debts for thousands of kids across the region.

Last week, Jeffery Lew, a Seattle parent, created a gofundme account with the goal of raising $21,000 to cover the outstanding school lunch bills for families throughout the district.

As of Monday, Lew had surpassed $23,000 and told KOMO News he plans to use the excess money to help negate future lunch debts.

His success has prompted other parents in other districts to do the same, to help erase school lunch debts.

"We've been part of this community since 1977, so it's always nice to give back," said Christy Lee.

On Friday, she and her husband Tom, donated money to help address the school lunch debt in Marysville.

Initially planning only to donate to a single school, the Lees donated nearly $5,500, which helped erase debt from all ten elementary schools in the Marysville School District.

“I was inspired by Jeff and what he did for Seattle Public Schools,” aid Sarah Lunerberg, who is also coordinating a fundraising effort for Everett students. “No kid should have to worry about eating lunch."

According to a 2016 survey by the School Nutrition Association, 76 percent of school districts reported that their meal program had unpaid student meal debt at the end of the 2014-15 school year.

A practice known as "lunch shaming" has become a notorious in some states around the country. It happens when children are held publicly accountable for unpaid school-lunch bills.

When students cannot pay for lunch, a student is typically fined, but still fed. However, the student is often given a cold or cheaper meal, according to a school district spokesperson.

“No kid should have to think about, ‘Can I get in line today?’ ‘Did my mom pay for that, did my dad pay for that?'" said Lunerberg.

The Edmonds School District has also started an online fundraiser to help erase school lunch debt.


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