A charity in honor of the late Philando Castile delivered a check for $35,000 to the St. Paul (Minnesota) Public Schools to reduce school lunch debt for students in early March, according to the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Including a $10,000 donation in 2017, the “Philando Feeds the Children” fundraiser has now relieved nearly half of the district’s $102,000 in school lunch debt.
Castile, known to students as “Mr. Phil,” worked as a lunchroom supervisor at St. Paul’s J.J. Hill Montessori School before being shot and killed by police during a traffic stop in 2016, and district nutritional services director Stacy Koppen told WCCO last year that Castile was known to reach into his own pocket to help students in need pay for their lunches.
Pamela Fergus, a college psychology professor in the Twin Cities area, began coordinating the fundraiser in 2017 with support from Castile’s mother. Though the initial goal was to help students at Castile’s former school, the fundraiser quickly grew to encompass all St. Paul schools and hopes to “expand as wide as we are able,” according to the effort’s YouCaring page. The charity has raised more than $139,000 to date.
School lunch debt arises when students and their families are unable to pay for meals in school cafeterias, and the problem has garnered increasing attention in recent years. Some school districts have elected to withhold meals from students, while others simply choose to absorb the debt, burdening already-strained school district budgets.
Rather than wait for public policy solutions, citizens have started charitable efforts to address the problem. One second grader in Idaho raised hundreds of dollars for fellow students with a lemonade stand, and an effort to reduce debt in Seattle schools received a $5,000 donation from singer John Legend (husband of former Snohomish, Washington, resident Chrissy Teigen).
Philando Feeds the Children has become one of the highest-profile efforts to reduce school lunch debt, in part due to the public concern surrounding Castile’s tragic death. To learn more about people helping others in need, read the most inspiring food stories of 2017.