Imagine being eight years old, standing in line for your lunch at school. You’re given a tray, served an entree, two sides, and a little carton of milk. Maybe it’s pizza day, or that great turkey and gravy dish. You get to the cashier, she checks your name against her register and frowns. She takes away your tray, and you get a brown bag with a plain cheese sandwich instead. Maybe you get a hand stamp or a paper wrist band that says “NO LUNCH.” Maybe you get no food at all.
This is the reality for many kids whose parents, for whatever reason, don’t keep up with their lunch payments. Some schools cut the kids off over a $15 debt, others at $25. Some allow shaming like those stamps, while others let the kids work off a set number of meals by cleaning in the cafeteria, which is just as stigmatizing.
While the public shaming is reprehensible, the schools aren’t entirely the villains here. Public schools have a budget of about $1.50 per day to feed their students, and each delinquent account comes out of that total.
When Seattle father Jeffrey Lew found out about “lunch-shaming,” and a little research showed him that Seattle school districts had more than $20,000 in student lunch debt, his immediate impulse was to get the community involved.
“It’s a terrible thing to put young people who are having challenges in that setting,” Lew told the Seattle Times. “Particularly in a school setting, where they should feel uplifted and embraced.”
Lew began a GoFundMe to wipe out all lunch debt in his city. In a month, donors had raised nearly $50,000–enough to ensure several years of protection against lunch-shaming. Inspired by the comments on his fundraiser, he began similar ones for Tacoma, Spokane, and Renton. Together, they’ve raised another $40,000.
Lew says the response to his efforts has been “overwhelmingly positive,” including donations from some surprising supporters. The Seahawks gave $1,000. Singer John Legend donated $5,000. TopGolf CEO Erik Anderson gave a stunning $12,000 to be divided among the fundraisers.
“And it’s still going strong,” said Lew.