GOOD

Fed Up Strangers Are Paying Off Students’ ‘Lunch Debt’

People are saying “enough” and stepping in

Whether a school serves up squishy tater tots and questionably tinted hamburgers—or healthy vegetables and fresh fruit—some kids are going to call the food “gross” and chuck it in the garbage. But for students whose parents struggle to make ends meet, that lunch might be the only full meal of the day. To make matters worse, some schools require students who don’t have enough money to mop floors in exchange for a meal, or they bill their parents for the food. Want to move on to the next grade or receive your high school diploma without paying off that lunch debt? Good luck with that, kids.


Some lawmakers are fighting back against “lunch shaming,” and now Good Samaritans across the United States have had enough of districts holding lunch debt over the heads of students and their families. Kindhearted people are taking their personal savings—or raising thousands of dollars online—to pay off the lunch debts of students they’ve never even met.

In Everett, Washington, a city of 106,000 about 25 miles north of Seattle, retired couple Tom and Christy Lee have become local heroes. Last week, the Lees paid a $5,495 lunch debt owed by 262 kids at 10 elementary schools in the Marysville School District.

“We buy goats for the ladies in Africa,” Tom Lee told local newspaper The Herald—and they wanted to give back more locally, too. The Lees planned to help out kids at the elementary school their son had attended in the 1990s, but quickly decided to pay off the lunch debts across the entire district. “In my 32 years in public education, it’s the first time I’ve seen something of this magnitude,” Superintendent Becky Berg told the paper.

How do kids end up with lunch debt in the first place? Around 21 million public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. But if a parent doesn’t turn in the free lunch application—or if a family’s income is just above the qualifying amount (185 percent of the federal poverty line)—students are required to pay. When they don’t have the money, they start to rack up debt.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]No kid should go hungry because they don't have any money.[/quote]

Seattle parent Jeffery Lew got so fed up with lunch shaming of students that he decided to pay off the lunch debt—$97.10— of every student at his 8-year-old’s school. He figured other parents might want to help, so last week he launched a crowdfunding campaign. “As a parent and graduate of the Seattle Public Schools, I am trying to help ease the burden of these families and make sure these children get to eat a nutritious meal each day at school,” Lew wrote on his GoFundMe page.

Like Tom and Christy Lee, Lew’s goal quickly morphed from paying off the student lunch debt at one school to tackling the debt of every kid in the district. Lew contacted Seattle Public Schools and found out that students in 99 schools owed $20,531.79. Thanks to the support of the public, Lew’s campaign surpassed the goal in less than a week. With nearly $25,000 raised so far this week, Lew is expanding the campaign to two other school districts (Renton and Tacoma) in Washington state.

“No kid should go hungry because they don't have any money. They should eat the same food their classmates are eating and not get shamed for that,” Lew told CBS News on Tuesday.

Thousands of miles away in Walker County, Georgia, a small town just south of the Tennesee border, Dollie Martin, the mom of a kindergartener at Chattanooga Valley Elementary, has held a garage sale and is raising funds online to pay students’ lunch debt. She’s about $1,000 short of raising enough to pay the $5,500 lunch debt of every kid in the district by the last day of school, May 19.

Martin became aware of the issue after the school sent home a letter explaining that students who didn’t pay would not receive their report cards or be placed in a classroom for the 2017-2018 school year. “The consequences that were listed in the letter, I was furious,” Martin told local ABC affiliate WTVC last week. “It's segregating children away in a socioeconomic type of environment,” she said.

The generosity of the Lees, Lew, Martin, and of everyone else donating to these crowdfunding efforts is to be admired. But it sure seems like kids in America shouldn’t have to count on the kindness of strangers in order to escape the burden of lunch debt.

Education
via Real Time with Bill Maher / YouTube and The Late Late Show with James Corden / YouTube

A controversial editorial on America's obesity epidemic and healthcare by comedian Bill Maher on his HBO show "Real Time" inspired a thoughtful, and funny, response by James Cordon. It also made for a great debate about healthcare that Americans are avoiding.

At the end of the September 6th episode of "Real Time, " Maher turned to the camera for his usual editorial and discussed how obesity is a huge part of the healthcare debate that no one is having.

"At Next Thursday's debate, one of the candidates has to say, 'The problem with our healthcare system is Americans eat shit and too much of it.' All the candidates will mention their health plans but no one will bring up the key factor: the citizens don't lift a finger to help," Maher said sternly.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics

There is no shortage of proposals from the, um, what's the word for it… huge, group of Democratic presidential candidates this year. But one may stand out from the pack as being not just bold but also necessary; during a CNN town hall about climate change Andrew Yang proposed a "green amendment" to the constitution.

Keep Reading Show less
test
Me Too Kit

The creator of the Me Too kit — an at home rape kit that has yet to hit the market — has come under fire as sexual assault advocates argue the kit is dangerous and misleading for women.

The kit is marketed as "the first ever at home kit for commercial use," according to the company's website. "Your experience. Your kit. Your story. Your life. Your choice. Every survivor has a story, every survivor has a voice." Customers will soon be able order one of the DIY kits in order to collect evidence "within the confines of the survivor's chosen place of safety" after an assault.

"With MeToo Kit, we are able to collect DNA samples and other tissues, which upon testing can provide the necessary time-sensitive evidence required in a court of law to identify a sexual predator's involvement with sexual assault," according to the website.

Keep Reading Show less
Health

Villagers rejoice as they receive the first vaccines ever delivered via drone in the Congo

The area's topography makes transporting medicines a treacherous task.

Photo by Henry Sempangi Senyule

When we discuss barriers to healthcare in the developed world, affordability is commonly the biggest concern. But for some in the developing world, physical distance and topography can be the difference between life and death.

Widjifake, a hard-to-reach village in northwestern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) with a population of 6,500, struggles with having consistent access to healthcare supplies due to the Congo River and its winding tributaries.

It can take up to three hours for vehicles carrying supplies to reach the village.

Keep Reading Show less
Health
via Keith Boykin / Twitter

Fox News and President Trump seem like they may be headed for a breakup. "Fox is a lot different than it used to be," Trump told reporters in August after one of the network's polls found him trailing for Democrats in the 2020 election.

"There's something going on at Fox, I'll tell you right now. And I'm not happy with it," he continued.

Some Fox anchors have hit back at the president over his criticisms. "Well, first of all, Mr. President, we don't work for you," Neil Cavuto said on the air. "I don't work for you. My job is to cover you, not fawn over you or rip you, just report on you."

Keep Reading Show less
Politics