Philando Castile, whose life was taken by law enforcement in a controversial shooting in 2016, loved children — loved the students attending JJ Hill Montessori in Minnesota, where he worked as a school nutrition supervisor — so much so, he made it his mission to ensure none of them would go hungry, just for lacking funds to pay for lunch.
He often raided his own pockets to buy lunch for hungry kids in need.
“Philando was famous for that,” Professor Pam Fergus asserted. “His mother told me that every day he would call her after leaving his job at JJ Hill and talk about the kids. Another kid didn’t have the money in his account, so Philando would take $3 out of his pocket and buy that kid’s lunch for the day.”
Inspired by Castile, students at Metro State University in St. Paul designed last year’s fall service project around his legacy of generosity, and with the guidance of Professor Fergus, they created a crowdfund with a modest goal of $5,000 to pay off all outstanding lunch debt incurred by the kids at JJ Hill Montessori.
Naming the campaign Philando Feeds the Children, the university students not only accomplished that goal, they decimated it — raising an impressive $107,000 — thusly eliminating the meal debt not only for students at the montessori, but for all pupils throughout the entire 56-facility St. Paul Public School system.
“That means that no parent of the 37,000 kids who eat meals at school need worry about how to pay that overdue debt,” the YouCaring fundraiser page now reads. “Philando is STILL reaching into his pocket, and helping a kid out. One by one.”
As the page further notes, “Some kids get free lunch, but many kids come from families with incomes slightly above the cut off. They get behind in payments, and need our help.”
CNN cites Fergus explaining the importance of paying down the debt, as families in need with outstanding bills cannot submit paperwork for free or reduced-price lunches.
“They just keep accruing the debt, every day getting (further and further) into debt,” as some outstanding bills topped $1,000 before Philando Feeds the Children stepped in, she told the outlet.
But last week, she and the students responsible for the fundraiser dropped off a check sufficient to cover the lunch debt for the entire school system.
“I feel really amazed by that,” Fergus told KMSP. “It’s really fun to write a check that doesn’t come out of your own account and pays off something so wonderful.”
Touched by the success of the campaign in December after only 124 days, Fergus authored an open letter to Castile, to whom she pledged to “continue to honor your integrity and spirit,” writing, per CNN,
“Across the country, people are discussing ‘lunch-shaming.’ We are discussing the embarrassment a child suffers when parents cannot afford lunch. Your spirit is moving to change that issue.”
Those whose lives were touched by Castile would much prefer he be remembered for his good works and kind-hearted deeds, rather than the contentious shooting that ended his life — the immediate aftermath of which went viral when his girlfriend posted it to Facebook Live. Philando Feeds the Children — which continues with a new goal of branching out to pay the lunch debts accrued in other Minnesota schools — honors that wish through charity.
As Fergus told CNN, “I don’t know how much it would take to help the whole state of Minnesota. There is no end goal. Basically, I want a million bucks in there.”
For the students responsible for the campaign, helping kids and families took — and takes — precedence over the ‘As’ they received for the service project, initiated in September.
“I think everyone can agree kids need to be fed and that this is important,” Metro State student, Heather Moenck, told KMSP. “It’s one of those things that is really important, so we can move forward and heal together.”
And as the YouCaring page poignantly adds,
“Philando’s death affected every one of those kids. This fund hopes to provide the kids with a lasting connection to Mr. Phil.
“Please help Philando continue to feed his kids.”
Image: Wikimedia Commons/Fibonacci Blue.