To those who don’t know him, Jeff Lew might seem like he is just a typical dad from Seattle. But in reality, he’s so much more. After discovering a widespread issue known as “lunch debt” in 2017, Jeff jumped into action. He not only helped thousands of struggling families in his home state of Washington, but also sparked a nationwide trend of people getting involved.
Now, Jeff is at it again. As he watched the number of cases of COVID-19 rise across the world and eventually in his own city of Seattle, he knew he had to act. The incredible response to his efforts has shown Jeff, yet again, that people will answer the call when asked to help.
Back in 2017, Jeff Lew read an article online that stopped him in his tracks. He learned about “lunch shaming,” a phenomenon in which school children with unpaid lunch debts (a negative balance in their school lunch account) were publicly humiliated in front of their classmates. Jeff, a father of three young children himself, was heartbroken at the thought and felt compelled to help – so he started a GoFundMe campaign.
Jeff’s initial goal was to pay off the lunch debt at his son’s school. But, after meeting that goal incredibly quickly, he set his sights on paying off the lunch debt for the entire school district, then multiple other districts, and eventually the entire state. Jeff was soon dubbed “The Lunch Debt Dad”, and his actions inspired people all over the country to help alleviate lunch debt in their own communities.
(Image credit: Hayley Young for Seattle Magazine)
Since then, Jeff’s passion for giving back to his community has remained strong. Now, he’s tackling a new issue – one that is facing us all.
When the 2019 novel coronavirus spread to the U.S. in January 2020, no state was hit harder than Washington – and no city harder than Seattle. As of mid-March, there were 769 reported cases in the state of Washington, 42 of which resulted in death. Those numbers continue to rise daily.
As Jeff watched the grim news unfold, his heart broke once again for his community, and for the world. He couldn’t help but notice that the most vulnerable groups were getting hit the hardest, and could only imagine how much worse it would get for them. Soon, he was overcome with that same feeling he experienced back in 2017: an urgent desire to help.
“Some of these families don’t have sick leave. Some don’t have annual leave. Some are taking leave without pay. How are these families going to pay rent? How are they going to feed their families? This is why I am working to help my community.”
After doing some research, Jeff learned about the Seattle Foundation’s COVID-19 Response Fund, which is providing direct relief to those who need it most: residents without health insurance, people without paid to sick leave, those with limited English language proficiency, healthcare and gig economy workers, communities of color, and others. What’s more, Jeff learned that the organization also plans to work closely with King County’s Pandemic Community Advisory Group to identify other organizations currently providing or receiving requests for support in these instances.
Moved by the Seattle Foundation’s work, Jeff started a GoFundMe campaign to support their efforts. He soared past his goal of $25,000 in just 5 hours, and it hasn’t stopped climbing since.
Now that his Seattle fundraiser has taken off (thanks to his generous local community), Jeff has decided to take things one step further and help people affected by the COVID-19 crisis across the whole country. Realizing that a limited access to food would affect a large number of people during this crisis, Jeff decided to partner with the World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing meals in the wake of disasters. Between limited access to resources, job loss, school closures, and much more, millions of families across America face uncertain times ahead, including hunger. Jeff hopes that the funds he raises for the World Central Kitchen’s outreach efforts will be able to make an impact.
(Image source: World Central Kitchen Instagram)
“One day you may be helping others, and then one day you need the help. To help one another and love one another in this time is very important. In this dark time in our country, let’s be the light that shines.”