In 2017, the Seattle father started a locally-targeted GoFundMe to "try to help ease the burden of families and make sure these children get to eat a nutritious meal each day at school." His efforts have not only been successful but inspired similar campaigns. 

By Maressa Brown

A dad from Seattle, Washington is behind what could be described as a movement to erase school lunch debt. Back in 2017, Jeff Lew took to GoFundMe to start a campaign to tackle the debt at his child's school. Soon, he had raised not only $50,000 to eliminate the lunch debt in the Seattle school district but nearly $50,000 for the entire state of Washington. 

On his original campaign page, Lew pointed to "lunch shaming," defined by the Seattle Times as "holding children publicly accountable for unpaid school-lunch bills—by throwing away their food, providing a less desirable alternative or branding them with markers." The paper also pointed out that a 2014 report from the Department of Agriculture found that nearly half of all districts used some form of shaming to compel parents to pay bills. (About 45 percent withheld the hot meal and gave a sandwich; 3 percent denied food entirely.)

Since raising awareness of this troubling trend, Lew has inspired similar campaigns based all around the country. A grandma named Pat started a page to pay off a California elementary school's lunch debt. "This campaign is very close to my heart," she wrote. "My siblings and I grew up during the depression and often ate very little during lunch due to our families tight finances. Having not been able to afford lunch, I hope that my campaign will prevent the shame I once felt as a child."

A 6-year-old named Amiah Van Hill who lives in Hayden, Idaho initially sold lemonade to help pay down her school's lunch bill, and then hopped on GoFundMe to spread the word about her campaign. Her current goal is $100K to pay off the entire lunch debt for the state of Idaho. 

All in all, more than 100 similar campaigns have been started and over $250K has been raised to help clear lunch debt around the country. Lew recently spoke on the subject while appearing on GoFundMe’s new podcast, True Stories of Good People.

With hope, this is a movement that only continues to grow. Head to GoFundMe to learn more about lunch debt, find a GoFundMe in your area, or start a campaign.


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