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He doesn’t want any kid in Washington to go hungry because they can’t pay for school lunch

Second graders Illya Semenyuk, left, and Taysahawna Harris, right, enjoy lunch during Taste Washington Day on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 at Sunnyland Elementary School in Bellingham. Schools across the state were part of Taste Washington Day featuring local ingredients from the state of Washington.
Second graders Illya Semenyuk, left, and Taysahawna Harris, right, enjoy lunch during Taste Washington Day on Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 at Sunnyland Elementary School in Bellingham. Schools across the state were part of Taste Washington Day featuring local ingredients from the state of Washington. The Bellingham Herald file

Jeff Lew has already helped raise nearly $100,000 to wipe out the lunch debt in five Washington districts. With the message that no child should have to go hungry or be shamed if their families can’t afford a school meal, his campaigns have netted donations from community members, businesses, and even Grammy-winner John Legend.

Now, Lew is taking the campaign statewide. The Seattle parent hopes to raise at least $600,000, which is the estimated total amount of lunch debt in districts across Washington. The campaign launched Friday.

“It’s a big challenge, but I’m confident,” said Lew, who lives in Beacon Hill. “I know Seattle was already a big challenge, and that has had a lot of momentum. We thought ‘hey, what is the next step.’”

Lew created a GoFundMe campaign in May to eliminate the roughly $21,000 owed by Seattle students for school meals. Seattle schools provide modified meals, like milk or vegetables, for students if they owe more than $15 in their school-meal account. In other states, stories of schools that “lunch shamed” students by making them clean tables or thrown out their food when they couldn’t afford meals sparked national outrage.

These are families I don’t know, these are kids I don’t know, but I want to fight for them.

Jeff Lew, whose GoFundMe campaign helped raise money for school lunches

Lew wanted to make sure that a student never felt singled out or was bullied if they couldn’t afford lunch, so he first created a campaign for his son’s elementary school. Once that was paid off, he created a campaign for Seattle, then the Tacoma, Renton, Spokane and Clover Park districts.

His story went viral, appearing on CNN, NBC and NPR. The campaigns caught the eye of John Legend, who donated $5,000, and TopGolf CEO Erik Anderson, who donated $12,000 in total for four campaigns.

Lew and his fundraising team spent the summer calling districts across the state to find out how much was owed for meal debts.

They were pleased to hear that in some districts, there is no lunch debt, thanks to donations or district programs. Lew said he hopes they'll hear that from more districts in the future.

“It’s important to pay off these debts because we need to help each other and help one another in a time of need,” Lew said. “Regardless of the reason for what these parents are going through, I want to give back. These are families I don’t know, these are kids I don’t know, but I want to fight for them.”

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