With the new school year just around the corner, one Seattle school lunch advocate has plenty to celebrate.
Thanks to the fundraising efforts of Jeff Lew, several public school districts will receive enough money to have their lunch debts erased.
Lew started with paying off the lunch debt at his own son's school, and things snowballed from there. Now he's raised around $85,000 on GoFundMe to wipe out the school lunch debts of the Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane public school districts. He's also working on raising money for the Renton and Clover Park school districts.
But he says once school starts up again, so will the debt problem.
Lew: "Because some of these families may still be going through tough financial situations or health situations or whatever they're going through, some of these kids are going to start accruing these lunch debts again. And its's going to start adding up until we find a permanent solution."
So Lew teamed up with Stephen Medawar and started lunchdebt.org. They plan to launch a new campaign; one they hope will erase an even bigger debt.
Lew: "We're going to try and pay off all the school districts in Washington, so statewide. So it’s a big task, a big goal. I'm confident if we did it for Seattle, we can do it for the state of Washington."
He estimates it could take more than $600,000 to cover the 295 school districts in the state. In the meantime Lew would like to start a local conversation with whoever becomes Seattle's next mayor to work on creating a permanent solution for erasing school lunch debt.
One of the concerns about school lunch debt is that children may be humiliated for carrying a balance.
In Seattle, lunch staff give students a verbal reminder when their lunch debt falls under $10. They may also receive a note home, and their parents may get a phone call to remind them to pay.
If their debt reaches $15, the student will receive “emergency food.”
According to the district website, “Emergency food will include graham crackers and milk for breakfast; a serving of fruit, vegetables and milk for lunch.”
The district also says that school administrators, the PTA and other groups may set up an account to pay for student meals.
It is unclear whether Lew’s fundraising effort would make a difference for how children are treated when they have a balance – or if they would start receiving heartier meals.