Philando Castile was a school cafeteria supervisor in a public school in St. Paul, Minnesota, before he was killed in 2016 by a police officer during a traffic stop. His death made him famous. But he was a star in life, too.
“Philando was ‘Mr. Phil’ to the students at J.J. Hill. He supervised their food program and interacted with the kids every day. He knew their names and their diets. He LOVED his job!” wrote Pamela Fergus, organizer of a fundraiser in Castile’s name, called Philando Feeds the Children.
The fundraiser is to help low-income students in the St. Paul Public School System, specifically earmarked to clear “lunch debt.”
“The St. Paul school district said it typically builds up about $60,000 in lunch debt each year,” said a broadcast last October on Minnesota Public Radio. “The debt accumulates when students can’t pay for their meals. A federal program offers free and reduced-price meals to families who qualify, but some families who earn a little bit too much still can’t afford lunch. Other families who do qualify may not sign up. They may be unaware or unwilling to share personal information.”
It began just to pay off the lunch debt at Philando Castile’s own school, J.J. Hill Elementary. The school had several thousand dollars of debt on record, belonging to students who regularly couldn’t afford the school’s lunch. But when news of the fundraiser was spread across the country, its goals were expanded to cover all lunch debt at all 56 schools of the St. Paul Public School District. Fergus wants to expand it further, to help students around the country for years to come.
As of the beginning of March, Fergus was able to bring a $35,000 check to the school district, clearing the debt of nearly 1,800 students. More donations are expected soon, out of the over $180,000 that the fundraiser has so far raised.