Some students in DeKalb County will return to school today to find their last Christmas gift came from a good samaritan, who paid off school lunch balances at four schools.
Pastor Lee May, the former DeKalb County Commissioner and longtime interim DeKalb CEO, issued a challenge to the community at large after paying the balances at four schools, hoping to obliterate a $26,000 balance at all DeKalb County School District’s elementary schools.
District officials confirmed Wednesday that Transforming Faith Church, where May is lead pastor, donated $1,316 on Dec. 11 to pay off student lunch balances at Fairington, Panola Way, Rainbow and Rock Chapel elementary schools.
For December, he preached the importance of generosity, and wanted to do something tangible to show generosity through work, not just faith.
“I just wanted to show the congregation generosity not just in words, but in actions — tangible, creative ways to be generous,” May said. “And not just to get something in return.”
May said he and his wife have been flagged before for forgetting to pay balances for their own children, and know that students who can’t pay face ridicule from other students, as they receive alternative meals when the balances reach a particular threshold.
“We just pay it, because it’s not an issue for us, but there’s so many families out there who don’t qualify for the free or reduced lunch, but financially it’s still a challenge and a burden over them,” May said. “When your bill gets a certain amount, you get a different meal — grilled cheese, peanut butter and jelly — and all the other kids know when you’re eating that, you don’t have any money.”
School District officials said about 70 percent of the district’s 102,000 students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch.
Initially, the church set out to pay balances at one school. Officials soon realized they set aside enough to pay balances at the four.
May posted a video on Facebook asking others to help eliminate the student debt. He also set up a GoFundMe page seeking contributions, and had sought out local businesses to donate funds as well.
So far, he said, about $4,000 has been pledged.
“That’s our goal — helping the kids so they don’t have to worry about that,” May said.
He left politics late last year, after deciding not to run for the CEO job he was appointed to by Gov. Nathan Deal in July 2013. The son of an African Methodist Episcopal Church pastor, and a 2003 graduate of Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, he said being a pastor wasn’t always the plan, but it was a calling he eventually answered.
His modest church has been holding weekly worship services in Southwest DeKalb High School’s performing arts auditorium since early September. Services have drawn up to 100 people, which is expected, May said, as people get feel for the church to determine whether it’s a good fit for them.
“It’s not about how many people we’ve got, it’s how much can we truly, truly impact people through our ministry,” he said. “Our ministry is about how do we practically put our faith into action?
“Our mission is to transform this world through Christ.”