Over the long weekend, a Seattle-based GoFundMe campaign that aims to pay off student school-meal debt received a major boost from “John Stephens,” otherwise known as Grammy-winning singer and songwriter John Legend.
The $5,000 donation is the largest amount contributed by any single donor to the campaign, organizer Jeff Lew, said.
Lew created the campaign earlier this month after reading about “lunch shaming,” a common practice that children living in poverty are subjected to when they can’t afford to buy a hot meal.
In Seattle, if a student owes more than $15 for meals, the school will provide them with a modified meal — which is not an extreme case of lunch-shaming, but one that could surely lead to embarrassment for said students. As of May 9, Seattle’s school debt had reached nearly $21,000.
To date, Lew’s campaign has raised over $41,000.
The remaining donations will go into a fund to cover debts through the end of the school year and into 2018, Lew said.
“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, a parent and graduate of the Seattle Public School system, wrote on the page. “I used to look forward to school lunches each day. I am sure these children feel the same!”
When the celebrity’s donation came in, Lew was floored. Legend doesn’t have any particular ties to the area besides the fact that his wife, Chrissy Teigen, grew up in Snohomish, a city outside of Seattle. The artist will also be performing in Washington state this upcoming weekend.
On Twitter, Legend responded to Lew’s tweet thanking him for his donation.
“My pleasure!” he tweeted. “We should have free lunch for all of our public students!”
My pleasure! We should have free lunch for all of our public students!— John Legend (@johnlegend) May 29, 2017
Inspired by the success of this campaign, Lew has gone on to create two more campaigns for students in Renton and Tacoma, Washington. Posted only about two weeks ago, the campaigns are already halfway to their goals.
The problem of school lunch debt, however, may be difficult to overcome at a national level.
Earlier this year, White House director of the Office of Management and Budget Mick Mulvaney publicly defended the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to social welfare programs like Meals on Wheels and other after-school programs. He called the services “ineffective.”
“They're supposed to help kids who don't get fed at home get fed so they do better in school,” Mulvaney said. “Guess what? … There's no demonstrable evidence they're actually helping results, helping kids do better in school.”
But according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, hunger takes a toll on student achievement, and alleviating it helps performance in school.
For now, it seems, it will be up to individuals like Lew and Legend to bring attention to this cause.