A crowdfunding campaign named after the late Philando Castile, a nutrition supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul, Minnesota, who was shot and killed by police during a routine traffic stop in 2016, has raised more than $150,000 (and counting) to help pay off school lunch debt in Castile’s home state.
Last week, Pamela Fergus, the founder of the fundraiser and a psychology instructor at Metropolitan State University, delivered a $35,000 check to St. Paul Public Schools, the New York Times reports.
That check, along with another $10,000 delivered last year, was enough to pay off the school lunch debt of 1,788 students who are part of the National School Lunch Program at 56 St. Paul public schools — and whose families had fallen behind on their lunch payments.
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While around 40% of students in the United States qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, according to CNN, many students whose parents or guardians make just over the cut-off of $25,000 for a family of three end up accruing school lunch debt.
Because of this, more than three-quarters of US school districts have unpaid school lunch debt nationwide.
The lunch debt crisis is bad enough that last year New Mexico became the first state to ban “lunch shaming,” where students with lunch debt are forced to work for their food, or embarrassed publicly for not having lunch money.
Across the country, the number of children living in poverty increased by 6% between 2000 and 2013.
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As a nutrition supervisor at a school attended by primarily low-income students, Castile would regularly help students at his school pay off lunch debt by dipping into his own pockets, CNN reports.
Now, the charity in his name is paying off more lunches than he could have himself.
Philando Feeds The Children, the charity lunch program created in memory of #PhilandoCastile, has eliminated the lunch debt of every student at all 56 schools in Minnesota's St. Paul public school system #RIP#BlackExcellencepic.twitter.com/20kNVc4zee— REVOLT TV (@RevoltTV) March 4, 2018
“Philando is STILL reaching into his pocket, and helping a kid out. One by one,” campaign organizers wrote in an update on Feb. 26.
Organizers are not content with just paying off school lunch debt for students in St. Paul — and have their eyes set on paying off school lunch debt statewide, the Times reports.