A dad has gone above and beyond to eliminate school lunch debt in 90-plus schools in Washington state.
Jeffery Lew, 33, a father of three, crowdfunded over $23,000 to cover the cost of unpaid lunches in the Seattle School District, where his 8-year-old son is a student.
"We hit the goal real quickly," Lew told ABC News. "It feels amazing because it takes a village. I really credit the whole community coming together."
Lew, a Seattle resident, said he was inspired by stories of "lunch shaming" happening in schools across the country.
"[I was] reading up and watching the national media of the lunch shaming crisis--how other schools have tossed the lunch because a kid did not have enough money or stamped on the arm saying, 'I owe lunch money,'" Lew said. "Just from hearing that news coverage it kind of broke my heart as a father. I can't imagine having one of my children coming home from school saying, 'Hey, I was denied lunch because I owed money.'"
In 2016, cafeteria worker Stacy Koltiska quit her job at a Pennsylvania elementary school after she said was required to take a hot lunch away from a student who had fallen behind on payment.
One year prior, Dalene Bowden, an Idaho cafeteria worker, said she was fired for giving a free meal to a hungry student who was unable to pay for lunch.
Lew said the Seattle School District does not deny students an entire lunch if a student does not have money. Instead, the cafeteria provides fruit and milk, he noted.
The Seattle Public School District said Lew's campaign "reflects the generosity of our families and communities."
"As a district, we are committed to partnering with families and communities to provide students the best educational experience," a school spokesman told ABC News in a statement. "Part of that experience is making sure all of our students have access to a healthy breakfast and lunch, whether they have money to pay for meals at the time or not. The money recently raised by families will be used to pay down school lunch debt. Any money left over will be used to pay future school lunch debt. Thank you to our great families for helping us ensure success for all our students.”
According to the district's website, qualifying families may apply for free and reduced price meals. The online application has to be submitted before the start of a new school year.
Lew said he originally created the "Erase Seattle School Lunch Debt!" GoFundMe page to pay off the $97.10 in student lunch debt owed at his son's elementary school.
He then set his sights higher and in five days, raised over $23,000. The funds will cover the $21,000 lunch bill that accrued throughout the entire district, Lew said. He plans to disperse the money among Seattle's more than 90 schools.
Lew said he's just happy to give back.
"I think parents are so busy in their work life and different things where they forget to send their children to school with lunch money...there could be parents that are in a tough financial situation that we don't know about and can't afford it," Lew said. "We just don't know what these kids or families are going through. No kid should go hungry regard if they have money or not."
Next, Lew said he hopes to pay off lunch debts for schools outside his district.