Jeff Lew, a Seattle dad who is leading efforts in his hometown to wipe out student lunch debt is making a similar impact in Spokane.
Lew originally launched a GoFundMe to help end school lunch debt in his 9-year-old son’s elementary school. He initially was just trying to raise about $97, but things quickly grew until he realized they could end lunch debts for the entire Seattle School District – a total Lew said was $20,531.
“I then decided to launch the Spokane School District one since they are the second largest in the state,” Lew said over the phone on Thursday. “Even though Spokane is still like five and half hours away from where I am.”
Spokane School District officials confirmed there was only about $1,500 in total school lunch debt in the school system, but Lew decided to go ahead with the campaign.
“I still decided to help out because every little bit counts,” he said. Once they reached the goal over the weekend of $1,500 – in part, Lew said, thanks to the help of Spokane native Erik Anderson, the CEO of TopGolf – he changed their fundraising efforts to $3,500 to offset future lunch debts in the Spokane School District.
“It’s becoming a movement,” Lew said. “I was inspired by other parents’ efforts and now people are saying I am inspiring them.”
Lew explained even celebrity chef Rachel Ray had tweeted about the cause.
The Spokane School District said they take many preventative measures to help students avoid school lunch debt. They have a warning system and an online notification system parents can use. At the elementary level, students can charge up to two lunches at a negative balance.
At a high school level, staff have a discretionary fund they can use to help students cover a meal here and there.
“Our goal is to have some caring and compassion, but also hold them accountable,” said Doug Wordell, the SPS director of nutrition services.
PREVIOUS: Do Spokane schools allow lunch shaming?
Wordell said 57 percent of students in the district are on some form of free or reduced lunch. He said parents can also apply for some school lunch relief any time.
“I think that we try to do a good job communicating ahead of time,” Wordell. “We have really good stewardship.”
Lew said he is working with each individual school district on every GoFundMe account to make sure the money is going to the right place. He also launched similar campaigns in Renton and Tacoma.
“We need to find a permanent solution and I’m not stopping until that solution is found,” Lew said. “Sometimes, it just takes some time.”
Lew said he’s raised somewhere around $90,000 to help end school lunch debt across the state.