Crystal Bonvillian, Cox Media Group National Content Desk
SAINT PAUL, Minn.
Philando Castile is still ensuring that the students he served in Saint Paul, Minnesota, are eating a good lunch, despite his death last year at the hands of a police officer.
Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, visited J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School on Friday to help deliver a special gift -- a check for $10,000 to pay off the lunch debt for the school’s students. The money was part of more than $72,000 raised by a project designed to honor the beloved nutrition supervisor, who was known to pay for students’ lunch out of his own pocket if they had no money.
The remaining $62,000 raised in his name will go toward eliminating the lunch debt of students throughout Saint Paul Public Schools, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis reported. The funds raised so far are enough to pay off students’ debt for a year.
Philando Castile was shot to death July 6, 2016, after he was pulled over by St. Anthony police Officer Jeronimo Yanez and a colleague in nearby Falcon Heights. The immediate aftermath of the shooting was live-streamed on Facebook by Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was also in the car, as was Reynolds’ 4-year-old daughter.
Yanez, who pulled the trigger, was charged with manslaughter in Castile’s death, but was acquitted in June. The shooting and the officer’s acquittal touched off protests across the country.
The fundraising project, called Philando Feeds the Children, was started by Pamela Fergus, a professor at Metropolitan State University in Saint Paul, as a project for her diversity and ethics class.
“Philando was ‘Mr. Phil’ to the students at J.J. Hill. He supervised their food program and interacted with the kids every day,” the fundraising page at YouCaring.com reads. “He knew their names and their diets. He loved his job!”
The page states that Castile’s death affected all the children who knew and loved him.
“This fund hopes to provide the kids with a lasting connection to Mr. Phil,” it states.
The Star Tribune reported that Fergus set a goal of raising $5,000 for the project. Within the first two weeks, donors gave more than $50,000.
“We just had this little idea that we were going to help do Mr. Phil’s job and make sure you guys have good lunch to eat every day,” Fergus told the children gathered in the lunchroom where Castile worked, according to CBS Minnesota.
About 70 percent of students in Saint Paul schools qualify for free lunch, the Star Tribune reported. About 2,000 students end up owing the district lunch money at the end of each school year.
Fergus told the students Friday that the project would continue to raise money so they could “always get a good lunch,” the newspaper said.
The fundraising website bears out that promise. As of Tuesday morning, the total funds raised had jumped to almost $74,000.
Valerie Castile said the feedback on the project had been overwhelming and that she was considering involving other school systems across the country.
“No child should go hungry,” she said. “And this project helps keep my son alive.”
The project received praise from a commenter on the fundraising site, who called Philando Castile’s death “senseless.”
“Philando worked at Chelsea Heights Elementary before J.J. Hill,” one woman wrote. “My oldest two boys remember him. I remember him hairnet and all.”
The woman called Castile a “gentle soul.”
“Thank you for giving voice to the importance of his life,” she wrote.