Tom and Christy Lee had long wanted to do something for kids at Kellogg Marsh Elementary School, which their son, Ryan, attended in the 1990s. They wound up paying off the lunch money debt of $5,495 for 262 kids in 10 schools in the Marysville School District. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Tom and Christy Lee had long wanted to do something for kids at Kellogg Marsh Elementary School, which their son, Ryan, attended in the 1990s. They wound up paying off the lunch money debt of $5,495 for 262 kids in 10 schools in the Marysville School District. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Couple pays $5,495 owed for lunches at Marysville schools

MARYSVILLE — On Friday, Tom and Christy Lee called the Marysville School District, intending to pay off the lunch money debt for the students at Kellogg Marsh Elementary School. They asked how much debt had accrued.

“We actually figured it would be $2,000 for Kellogg Marsh,” Christy Lee said. “We were shocked when it was only $259.”

They went to the district offices to make their donation. While there, they asked what they thought was the obvious next question: How much would it take to pay off the debt for every elementary kid in the district?

The answer: $5,495 for 262 kids in 10 schools.

They said they’d go home to talk about it, Tom Lee said. It turned out they didn’t need to.

In the car, Tom and Christy agreed. “We already knew we were going to do it,” he said.

They went home, poured a cup of coffee and called back.

It was a surprise at the district.

“In my 32 years in public education, it’s the first time I’ve seen something of this magnitude,” said Marysville School Superintendent Becky Berg.

Schools regularly receive donations from PTA groups and individuals, Berg said, often targeted at a specific school or program, such as paying for a field trip or a nonstandard piece of equipment like a 3-D printer.

Occasionally, a parent may pay off the lunch debt of one of their kids’ friends. But usually, donations aren’t made with the entire district in mind, Berg said.

The Lees had been talking about giving back to their community for several months.

They had agreed that they wanted to give to Kellogg Marsh Elementary, which their son Ryan attended in the 1990s.

When the Lees worked for Boeing, they always tried to contribute the maximum amount allowed to the Employee Community Fund, which directs millions of dollars each year to charitable causes.

After they retired a few years ago, they continued to contribute to the Marysville Community Food Bank, Homage Senior Services’ Meals on Wheels program, and an international ministry.

“We buy goats for the ladies in Africa,” Tom Lee said.

But they felt like they could do more. They’d done OK in life and their New Year’s resolution was to give back, he said.

“We’re just not giving as much as we used to and we kind of missed that,” he said.

“Friday morning, when I got up I said, ‘Today’s the day I want to do it,’” he said.

There’s another reason why they chose to do this now.

Tom Lee has health issues. His kidneys failed about a year-and-a-half ago.

In August 2015, the Lees had planned on a long-dreamed-of trip to Hawaii.

“Then I started getting sicker and sicker,” he said.

After spending a night in the hospital that November, they talked to a nephrologist, who told them he had to start dialysis the next week.

They had to cancel their trip.

“We were crushed,” he said. “We’ve been together 40 years and it was our goal.”

While the Lees have focused on improving Tom’s health to where he could qualify for a transplant, they started looking for things to do.

“His nutritionist is telling him to do things on his bucket list,” Christy Lee said.

That brought them back to the Marysville School District.

Kids with school lunch debt generally don’t get a choice of hot lunch, Berg said. Usually they get something like a cheese sandwich.

“We will never be in the business of throwing a lunch away or taking it from a child’s hand,” Berg said.

But other kids who don’t have debt can see who’s eating what kind of lunch, Tom Lee said.

“It’s embarrassing,” Christy Lee said.

Unpaid lunch debt at the end of the school year also carries over into the next year.

The one thing that really reassures the Lees is knowing that both of those problems are now taken care of.

Berg said the district hasn’t officially communicated to the schools yet about the Lees’ donation, but the computers in the cafeteria would show that the debts were paid.

“No child is going to go without a good regular lunch today,” Tom Lee said.

On Tuesday, the Lees plan to go to Kent Prairie Elementary in Arlington, where their two grandsons attend school, and drop off a check for $239.88 to wipe out all the kids’ lunch debt there.

Then they’ll get to work on the rest of his bucket list, starting with that trip to Hawaii.

“This year,” he said.

“And hopefully next year will be Alaska,” Christy Lee said.

Chris Winters: 425-374-4165; cwinters@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @Chris_At_Herald.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

A big decision for Boeing’s next CEO: Is it time for a new plane?

As Boeing faces increased competition from Airbus, the company is expected to appoint a new CEO by the end of the year.

A Mukilteo Speedway sign hangs at an intersection along the road in Mukilteo. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Mukilteo Speedway name change is off to a bumpy start

The city’s initial crack at renaming the main drag got over 1,500 responses. Most want to keep the name.

Two workers walk past a train following a press event at the Lynnwood City Center Link Station on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Lynnwood, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Trains up and running on Lynnwood Link — but no passengers quite yet

Officials held an event at the Lynnwood station announcing the start of “pre-revenue” service. Passengers still have to wait till August.

Nedra Vranish, left, and Karen Thordarson, right browse colorful glass flowers at Fuse4U during Sorticulture on Friday, June 7, 2024, in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
A promenade through Everett’s popular Sorticulture garden festival

Check out a gallery of the festival’s first day.

Left to right, Everett Pride board members Ashley Turner, Bryce Laake, and Kevin Daniels pose for a photo at South Fork Bakery in Everett, Washington on Sunday, May 26, 2024. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Second Everett Pride aims for even bigger rainbow of festivities

Organizers estimated about 3,000 people attended the first block party in Everett. This year, they’re aiming for 10,000.

Leslie Davis, left, and Lyndsay Lamb, twin sister stars of HGTV's "Unsellable Houses" and 2004 Snohomish High School graduates, donated a private design session to the school's auction fundraiser for their 20-year reunion. (Photo provided)
Got $2,000? Bid on face time with HGTV’s ‘Unsellable Houses’ twins

The sisters are offering up themselves in a fundraiser for their Class of 2004 Snohomish High 20-year reunion.

Everett
Fake gun sends Cascade High School into lockdown

Police detained a suspect with a fake weapon around 12:30 p.m. The lockout was lifted before 1:30 p.m.

The I-5, Highway 529 and the BNSF railroad bridges cross over Union Slough as the main roadways for north and southbound traffic between Everett and Marysville. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Highway 529 squeeze starts now between Everett, Marysville

Following a full closure for a night, starting late Sunday, Highway 529 will slim down to two lanes for months near the Snohomish River Bridge.

Rose Freeman (center) and Anastasia Allison of The Musical Mountaineers play atop Sauk Mountain near Concrete in October 2017. (Ian Terry / The Herald)
Musical Mountaineers’ sunset serenade to launch Adopt a Stream campaign

The nonprofit aims to transform into an “accessible model of sustainability,” with solar panels, electric vehicles and more.

A Marysville firefighter sprays water on a smoking rail car at the intersection of 116th Street NE and State Avenue around 8 a.m. Thursday, June 13, 2024, in Marysville, Washington. (Mike Henneke / The Herald)
Rail car catches fire, blocks traffic in Marysville

Around 7:20 a.m. Thursday, firefighters responded to reports of smoke coming from a rail car near 172th Street NE, officials said.

Firefighters transported two people to hospitals while extinguishing an apartment fire near Lake Ballinger in Edmonds Wednesday.
2 injured in Edmonds apartment fire

At least nine people were displaced by the fire on 236th Street SW, officials said. Nearly 50 firefighters responded.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife staff place a radio collar on a Grizzly Bear in the Cabinet-Yaak ecosystem. (U.S. Fish and Wildlife / Wayne Kasworm)
For grizzly bears coming to Cascades, radio collars will keep close tabs

Tracking an apex predator is tricky. GPS collars play a central role in a controversial plan to repopulate grizzlies in Washington’s wilderness.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.