Why a Fundraiser Named for Philando Castile Paid Off an Entire School District’s Restoration Debts

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In real life, Philando Castile had a reputation for using his own money to buy lunch for students who couldn’t afford it in the elementary school cafeteria where he worked.

Now – two years after being shot by a police officer during a roadside check at St. Paul, Minnesota— a fundraiser set up in Castile’s name raised enough money to clear the debts of more than 1,800 children for school meals.

“I think he would be pretty happy,” Philando Feeds the Children organizer Pamela Fergus said. As it happens host Carol Off.

“From what I heard [from] colleagues and friends, he was just a good guy and made sure those kids were well fed.”

Pamela Fergus, bottom right, and her Diversity and Ethics class launched the Philando Feeds The Children fund. (Submitted by Pamela Fergus)

Philando Feeds the Children presented a check for US$35,000 to St. Paul Public Schools last week.

That’s enough to wipe out the lunch debts of every student enrolled in the National School Lunch Program at all 56 schools in the district, including JJ Hill Montessori Magnet School, where Castile was a beloved nutrition worker known to students under the name “Mr. Phil”.

And they’re not over yet, Fergus said.

Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, shared the news on Facebook, thanking Fergus, his class and “all the generous people in the world”.

Castile, 32, was shot five times on July 6, 2016, by St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officer Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop, after Castile told the officer he was armed . Castile had a license for his gun.

The shooting drew widespread attention after Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car with her then four-year-old daughter, live-streamed its horrific aftermath on Facebook.

Yanez was acquitted manslaughter and other charges last year.

It was written on the sidewalk near where Castile was shot and killed. (Corinne Seminoff/Radio-Canada)

Fergus, a college professor, discussed the case with his diversity and ethics class at Metropolitan State University.

Each year, his students must collaborate on a class project.

“I usually try to inspire them to do something that gives back to the community,” Fergus said.

Last year, shortly after Yanez’s acquittal, the class started Philando Feeds the Children in an effort to pay lunch debts at Castile’s school.

“We had this extremely high goal of $5,000 and I was worried we would never get there in December of last year,” she said.

But the students raised $104,000 by the deadline and kept going.

To date, she says, the charity has raised more than $170,000 and she expects it to top $200,000 by the end of the week.

What is school catering debt?

According to a 2016 survey of 1,000 school lunch program operators by the School Nutrition Association, about three-quarters of U.S. school districts had outstanding student meal debt at the end of that school year.

Children from the poorest families receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch through the federal school lunch program.

But some struggle to pay even reduced prices. Other families, who would be entitled to free or reduced prices, do not complete the necessary documents.

Most school districts allow children to manage a tab for a certain number of meals, if they miss.

If parents ignore notices from the school regarding their child’s overdrawn account, the debt may be sent to a collection agency. Ultimately, taxpayers may have to cover it.

Next steps

Donations from Philando Feeds the Children have so far erased the pre-existing debt of children enrolled in the National School Lunch Program.

The next step, Fergus said, is to pay off the debt of those kids who are still racking up debt because their parents haven’t yet filed the paperwork to join.

“Our goal is to pay for everything and if the fund gets big enough we will expand beyond St. Paul,” Fergus said.

“I teach this course every semester and we’re going to take it over.”

— With files from the Associated Press

Correction: An earlier version of this story was called Philando Feeds the Children, a charity. In fact, it is a fundraiser.

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