During his time with St. Paul Public Schools, Philando Castile was known as someone who fed countless kids with money from his own pocket.
The gesture became his legacy. And it’s a legacy that a college professor wants to keep alive.
So, she and her students at Inver Hills Community College south of St. Paul launched a YouCaring campaign, “Philando Feeds The Children.”
The original goal, said professor Pam Fergus, was to raise $5,000 to help cover the student lunch debt at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School. That’s the school where Castile worked as a nutrition services supervisor before his death at the hands of a police officer during a traffic stop in July 2016.
But within weeks, the campaign far surpassed its goal and thus far has raised more than $84,000.
It’s more than enough to cover the student lunch debt at all elementary, middle and high schools in the district.
The district serves up to 39,000 students per year, from pre-K to high school. And according to school system spokeswoman Toya Stewart Downey, the debt amount varies from year to year. Usually, it’s about $60,000.
The hidden crisis
Lunch debt is one of America’s hidden crises. Even with expanded free and reduced lunch programs across the country, some students still either can’t afford their school lunch or are unaware of these programs. Some of them fall into lunch debt. Others are forced to work off their lunch debt in school or wear wristbands — what some call lunch shaming.
It affects more than 76% of America’s school districts, according to the School Nutrition Association.
In the St. Paul district, school lunch meals average between $2.30 and $2.70 based on the child’s age and grade, Downey said.
As of now, this year’s school lunch debt for the district is at $33,000, she said.
The leftover money
After the debts are paid off, the “Philando Feeds The Children” hopes to use leftover money to help educate parents and guardians about assistance programs, such as free and reduced lunch. Such initiatives are meant to prevent debt from piling on, said Stacy Koppen of the St. Paul district’s nutrition services.
Fergus, of Inver Hills Community College, hopes to expand the fund and help “all the schools in the state of Minnesota.”
“We can raise a million dollars,” she told CNN. “The sky is the limit.”
Castile entered the public school scene as a nutrition services assistant – an entry level position as a front-line worker in the cafeteria. From there, he sought a promotion, studied for the required tests and gained a supervisor position.
Before his death, Castile supervised the nutrition program at J.J. Hill School, Koppen said. He monitored special dietary needs and ordered and managed supplies. And he made positive impressions on kids with his “quiet demeanor and big heart,” she said.
Castile was shot and killed by a police officer while he attempted to reach for his ID during a traffic stop in July 2016. Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted earlier this year.