The world watched Philando Castile die, but thanks to the work of a new foundation, his legacy lives on.
On July 6, 2016, 32-year-old Castile was driving with his girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter when they were pulled over by two St. Anthony, Minnesota, police officers. During what should have been a routine traffic stop, officer Jeronimo Yanez fired seven shots into the car, hitting Castile five times. Castile died soon after at a local emergency room.
What made Castile’s death especially shocking was the fact that the incident was caught on camera. Diamond Reynolds, Castile’s girlfriend, livestreamed the immediate aftermath. Castile informed Yanez that he had a gun, as is the responsible thing to do in that situation. The officer’s response was to begin shouting, accusing Castile of reaching for the gun and firing his weapon. It was a horrible injustice made worse when Yanez was acquitted of charges of manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm.
Castile worked in the cafeteria at St. Paul’s J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, where he was beloved by children and colleagues. His death inspired a massive fundraiser for those kids.
A number of J.J. Hill elementary students had accrued thousands of dollars in lunch debt. While some qualified for free lunch, many families had incomes just outside the support cutoff. A new YouCaring campaign, Philando Feeds the Children, is working to wipe that debt clean — and then some.
Thanks to extensive public support, what started as a plan to wipe out lunch debt at J.J. Hill soon became a plan to address lunch debt across each of the 56 public schools in St. Paul. As of this writing, the group has raised more than $153,000.
The entire concept of a “lunch debt” is pretty ridiculous, but it’s happening all around us.
For many students from low-income families, a school lunch might be the only nourishing meal they get each day. In 2016, writer Ashley Ford offered a suggestion to her Twitter followers, writing, “A cool thing you can do today is try to find out which of your local schools have kids with overdue lunch accounts and pay them off.” In the months that followed, people donated thousands of dollars to their local school districts, wiping out balances. It was a powerful show of empathy and humanity for a problem that shouldn’t exist.
A related issue is something called “lunch-shaming.” In Alabama, one student reported being stamped with the words “I need lunch money.” A Utah school collected lunches from 40 students who owed a lunch balance and threw them away in 2014. In 2017, New Mexico passed the “Hunger-Free Students’ Bill of Rights,” aimed at making it easier for parents, teachers, and students to apply for free and discounted lunch programs while reducing the stigma and shaming.
To support the Philando Feeds the Children program in St. Paul, Minnesota, visit the campaign’s YouCaring page. Additionally, if you’re interested in helping out at a local level, GoFundMe has its own curated page of lunch debt elimination campaigns.