In honor of Philando Castile, fundraiser aims to help kids pay lunch debts

J.J. Hill Montessori students need our help.

Because of the infamy of his death, it's easy to forget who Philando Castile was in life: a beloved cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori School in St. Paul.

But there's a new fundraising effort aimed at keeping that memory alive – and helping the kids he served pay down their lunch debts.

Aptly named "Philando Feeds the Children," it launched this week on the crowdfuning site YouCaring, and in a few short days has raised over $4,100 – which is within striking distance of its $5,000 goal. 

According to organizer Pamela Fergus, some kids at J.J. Hill get free lunches, but many others "come from families with incomes slightly above the cut off," can't afford to pay for food, and subsequently get behind in their payments.

Students at the school, she explains, are several thousand dollars short, and "need our help."

So far, the fundraiser has garnered over 130 supporters, thousands of social media shares, and the backing of Castile's mother, Valerie, who "will match the final donated amount with monies from The Philando Castile Relief Fund."

It's a fitting tribute to Castile, who colleagues remember as generous to kids in need.

“When a student couldn’t pay for their lunch, a lot of times (Castile) actually paid for their lunch out of his own pocket,” St. Paul Public Schools Nutritional Services Director Stacy Koppen told WCCO on Wednesday

Fergus, a psychology professor at Inver Hills Community College, started the fundraiser because she "cares about school kids, cares about justice, and cares about changing the way our community interacts," she wrote on the website.

"Philando's murder changed me," she added.

If you're interested in donating, click here

Castile was shot to death by a St. Anthony police officer during a traffic stop last year.

Controversy over student lunch debt

As the Chicago Tribune reported last month, there has been "outrage against lunchroom practices that can humiliate children," such as publicly denying them food if they're out of money, and sending them home with "hand stamps" indicating their families are in debt to the cafeteria. 

Though federal officials have started requiting school districts across the country to adopt policies "addressing meal debts," the paper says, they haven't yet done anything to prohibit "most of the embarrassing tactics."

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