A charity set up in the name of Philando Castile, who was wrongly shot and killed by the police during a traffic stop in 2016, has wiped out school lunch debt for every student at every single one of the 56 schools in the St. Paul Minnesota Public Schools System. Before his death, Castile worked at the J. J. Hill Montessori Magnet School as a nutrition supervisor and would regularly buy lunch for kids who couldn’t afford to pay.
Philando Feeds the Children was started by Pam Fergus, a professor at Metro State University, and her students, who hoped to raise $5,000 to help remember Castile and the way he helped kids. But donors came calling and what was supposed to be a small fundraiser attracted $107,000 in donations. Fergus decided to use the funds to wipe away lunch debt because doing so helps low-income families struggling to support their children. And there are far-reaching benefits to the one-time payment.
Beyond the damage that debt build-up can cause outside of the school setting, parents and caregivers in the St. Paul system can’t even go about applying for free or reduced lunch until existing debt is cleared, which means many families wind up in a vicious cycle. And it gets worse. Many kids, after taking on a certain amount of lunch debt are given cold lunches instead of hot ones, and that’s if they aren’t denied food outright. All of this still takes place even though in 2015, 39 of the 56 public schools in St. Paul began to offer free lunch to all students no matter a family’s income.
According to Fergus, Philando Feeds the Children is not done. “I don’t know how much it would take to help the whole state of Minnesota,” said Fergus in the CNN report. “There is no end goal. Basically, I want a million bucks in there.”
Philando Castile’s name has become a rallying cry for activists in the Minneapolis area not only because he was killed by a cop, shot seven times while obeying an order to reach for his wallet, but because of the life he lived and the ways in which he helped children.