ST. PAUL, Minn. – One by one.
That’s how Philando Castile, who was killed by a police officer during a 2016 traffic stop, used to help kids who couldn’t afford lunch. The school nutrition supervisor would dip into his pocket and pay the bill.
Now a charity run in his name has multiplied his mission by thousands, wiping out the lunch debt of every student at all 56 schools in Minnesota’s St. Paul Public Schools, where Castile worked.
“That means that no parent of the 37,000 kids who eat meals at school need worry about how to pay that overdue debt,” according to a post at the YouCaring fundraising page Philando Feeds the Children. “Philando is STILL reaching into his pocket, and helping a kid out. One by one.”
Pam Fergus, the Metro State University educator who runs the fund with her students, dropped off a check for about $35,000 this week at the school district’s office, she told CNN.
The money will clear every cent families owe for school lunches. That’s important because until the debt is paid, students’ caregivers cannot submit paperwork to request free to reduced-price lunches, based on need, Fergus said.
“They just keep accruing the debt, every day getting (further and further) into debt,” she said, adding that some families owed as much as $1,000.
‘The pocket’s gotten pretty deep’
Even after a dramatic expansion of lunch subsidy programs, many students cannot afford — or don’t know about — reduced-price lunches. And when students can’t pay, many districts often give them cold sandwiches in lieu of their peers’ hot meals. Some schools deny them any lunch at all.
The Philando fund has far surpassed its $5,000 goal. It stood at $107,000 before this week’s check cleared, with about 3,000 donations ranging from $1.50 to $1,000 each.
“The pocket’s gotten pretty deep,” Fergus said.
In an open letter to Castile in December, when the kitty hit six figures — just 124 days after it launched — Fergus vowed to “continue to honor your integrity and spirit.”
“Across the country, people are discussing ‘lunch-shaming,’ ” she wrote. “We are discussing the embarrassment a child suffers when parents cannot afford lunch. Your spirit is moving to change that issue.”
As for a new goal, Fergus hopes the charity campaign ends only when no family struggles to pay for school lunch and when Castile’s legacy of love — rather than his violent death, the aftermath of which was broadcast in real time by his girlfriend on Facebook Live — becomes the first thing people think about when they hear his name, she said.
“I don’t know how much it would take to help the whole state of Minnesota,” Fergus said. “There is no end goal. Basically, I want a million bucks in there.”