It’s not often that a retired Boeing couple can get in on hot fads even before celebrities and rock stars make them go viral. But, that’s exactly what happened with the end-of-school-year trend of paying off the lunch debt of school kids.
“We made a New Year’s resolution that we were going to make a difference this year,” retired Boeing employee Tom Lee said Wednesday.
It was around tax time that Tom and his wife, Christy, who also worked for Boeing for more than 30 years, realized they weren’t giving to charities as much as they used to.
“I looked at the stuff we had donated to last year, like Stand Up to Cancer, Meals on Wheels. And boy, this isn’t anything like when we used to when we used to work at Boeing.”
They're a couple of modest means in a modest two-story Marysville home, but they're ramping up giving generously again -- and then some.
This is an important year for Tom. His kidneys are failing, and for four hours every other day he's hooked up to a dialysis machine, which acts an artificial kidney to clean his blood of unwanted waste. In early May, he got the news that his heart is not healthy enough for a transplant.
"That probably pushed me out over the edge, too, to do this now."
For a combined 60 years, the Marysville couple says they used to donate to the Boeing's Employee Community Fund, which matches employee charitable contributions. In 2016 alone, the fund donated $163 million to communities around the world. But for Tom, the seeds of his generosity were planted well before he started in IT at the Boeing plant in Everett.
He credits his grandfather, a preacher.
"That giving," says Tom. "I watched it with my grandfather. Of course, I grew up with my mom, who was a preacher's daughter, but that kind of giving goes back to that side of the family."
Tom and Christy wanted to give back to the school district that helped their now-grown son become the man he is today. So, hearing about school lunch debt, they came down in mid-May to their neighborhood elementary school where their son attended in the 1990s.
They asked to pay the entire lunch debt for the whole school. They were expecting a price tag in the thousands, but it only came down to $259. So, then they asked what it would cost them to erase the lunch debt at all 10 elementary schools in the Marysville School District -- something that district officials said no one has ever done before.
"It was a total of $5,495," said Tom. "I think the [district clerk] was surprised I didn't have a shocked look on my face."