Parent raises over $21,000 to erase all Seattle school lunch debt

SEATTLE — Jeffery Lew is a proud graduate of Seattle Schools, and now that his son is a 3rd grader he was looking for a way to give back.

He found out that some students struggle to pay for school breakfast and lunch, often not qualifying for free meals, and therefore racking up debt with the school district.  Lew had also heard nightmare stories about some school districts throwing away food in front of students or refusing to feed kids who could not afford to pay.

Lew called his son’s school.

“The entire school debt was about $97 and some change,” Lew said.

So he decided to think bigger.

“Why not just tackle the entire Seattle Public School District,” Lew said.

That turned out to be more than $20,000, so he enlisted the help of other parents via GoFundMe.

Seattle Public Schools do not shame students like some districts around the county have done.

Seattle students who have low account balances begin getting verbal warnings from the school and may get a note to take home.  If the money runs out the district provides Kindergarten through 8th grade students with emergency meals for up to three days-- consisting of graham crackers and milk for breakfast-- or fruit, vegetables and milk for lunch.

High school students are not allowed to charge meals when they have no money in their accounts.

However, for all students the district works with local PTAs and other groups to create cafeteria accounts for those students with parents who can’t pay and don’t qualify for free meals.

Lew said his effort is still important because even though the Seattle school district does not shame, he does not want any students to ever feel ashamed of their food.

“Kids will think differently of this friend like: ‘Hey he has no money again, so wow what’s going on,’ or ‘Hey I’m eating a hot pizza what’s going on here.’” Lew said. “So psychologically I think it can affect the child.”


On Saturday May 13, Jeffrey Lew posted on the GoFundMe campaign: "WE DID IT!!! We just hit our goal of $21,000! Big THANK YOU to the generous donation by Safeway Foundation! Thank you to all of you who donated to and shared this amazing campaign! You are truly amazing! You may ask "What's next?" I'm keeping this campaign page open if people would like to keep donating. I'm working on another idea regarding school lunch debt. Stay tuned!"