Singer John Legend has donated $5,000 to a GoFundMe that seeks to wipe out school lunch debt in Seattle area schools.
Legend donated the money under his real name, John Stephen, over the weekend, helping the campaign get close to its latest fundraising goal of $40,000. As of Monday morning, the account has raised more than $35,000.
Jeff Lew, who organized and initiated the campaign earlier this month, told Seattle-area station KING-TV that he received an email alerting him to the large donation.
“I found out that the John Stephens donation was John Legend because my wife (a superfan), recognized his name once I showed her the GoFundMe email showing the $5,000 donation,” Lew wrote in an email to the television station.
“At first I didn’t believe her and said ‘no way…’ That led me to do a Google search of John Legend. His Wikipedia page showed his name as John Roger Stephens. Once I saw that the John Stephens name matched what I saw on Wikipedia, I started getting a little excited but not fully believing it yet,” the email read.
Through the GoFundMe page, Lew told KTLA sister station KCPQ in Seattle that he sent the donor a message thanking him for his contribution; in the note, he also asked the singer if he is known as John Legend.
“Yes, it’s me,” the donor replied.
The response floored Lew, but he still wasn’t entirely convinced the whole thing wasn’t just an expensive prank, according to KCPQ.
So, on Sunday evening, Lew tweeted his thanks to the Grammy-winning singer’s verified account.
About an hour later, Legend replied, tweeting, “My pleasure! We should have free lunch for all our public students!”
Lew originally launched the fundraising page on May 9 with a goal to raise $21,000, a figure that was based on the Seattle School District’s lunch debt, according to KCPQ.
After surpassing that goal five days in to the campaign, he set out to raise more money for nearby school districts.
Lew said he started the page to help ease the debt burden on families, and ensure that children have access to a nutritious meals every day they’re in school.
“I always feel that no child should ever go hungry due to not having money,” Lew told KCPQ. “Because, you know, they’re children. They can’t work some don’t even know what the concept of money is.”
Lew’s GoFundMe page is one of several fundraisers that have been started as part of a growing movement across the country to erase school lunch debt and put an end to a practice commonly known as “lunch shaming.”
A school lunch typically costs around $2.35, CNN reported. When a kid doesn’t have enough money, many schools require cafeteria workers to take a kid’s tray of hot food away and throw it in the trash. Children are then handed a cold cheese sandwich — or they are forced to go hungry with no food at all.
In some cases, penniless kids are even forced to wear stamps, stickers or wristbands that mark them having unpaid lunch debt.
“No one believes we do this to kids,” said Jenny Ramo, executive director of New Mexico Appleseed, a nonprofit that works to eliminate poverty. It’s “barbaric.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate recently introduced the Anti-Lunch Shaming Act of 2017 to curb the worst of these shaming practices.
Outrage has escalated around the country as more people learn about this practice.
Joyce Melbourne is an elementary school teacher in Florida who paid out of her own pocket for one of her student’s lunches when the child received the dreaded cheese sandwich.
“Her eyes were filled with tears. All the other students had pizza and she had the thickest cheese sandwich I’ve ever seen in my life,” Melbourne told CNNMoney. She said a lunch lady sniped at her, asking whether she was going to do this every day since the child owed so much money.
“I knew that as one of my brightest students, I needed her to finish her day on a positive note,” Melbourne replied.
In that particular case, it turned out the that the young girl’s parents were not proficient in English. Melbourne asked a translator to work with the family to fill out the paperwork. The student was able to get on the free meal program, but Melbourne can see how other students could miss out for years if someone didn’t intervene.
“Children should not be punished because their parents can’t pay,” Melbourne said.