The mother of police shooting victim Philando Castile recently donated $8,000 to a Minnesota high school to erase student lunch debts. The gift comes amid reignited national conversations over unpaid lunch bills in public schools and how the consequences affect kids whose families struggle financially.
Valerie Castile gave Cooper High School in New Hope, Minnesota, $8,000 last month to address the school’s unpaid lunch bills.
She presented the donation on behalf of a foundation she created in honor of her son, Philando Castile, a black 32-year-old who was a beloved cafeteria supervisor in Minnesota. He was killed in July 2016 during a traffic stop in St. Anthony, Minnesota. The police officer who shot him was acquitted, but the city later paid a $3 million settlement to his family amid protests enflamed by a viral video taken by Castile’s girlfriend as he was dying.
The Robbinsdale Area Schools, which includes Cooper High, said in a statement last month that the donation from the Philando Castile Relief Foundation, created with the family's settlement, reduced the school’s lunch debt by covering unpaid balances for about 100 seniors enrolled in a program that provides free and reduced-priced meals at the school. Some of those students may have had a balance accrue before qualifying for the program, the statement added.
“The impact of this donation will reach many students and allow families to focus on celebrating the seniors’ upcoming graduation,” Robbinsdale Area Schools nutrition director Adele Lillie said in a statement.
Valerie Castile told NPR that the donation was made in honor of her son, who “understood that the children are the future leaders of this country.”
“The kids shouldn’t have a debt hanging over their heads, and the parents shouldn’t either,” she said. “I just believe that the schools should furnish free meals for our children.”
News of the foundation’s donation comes amid a recent resurgence in a national discussion over lunch debts and lunch shaming, which includes incidents in which students have been denied regular meals at schools due to unpaid lunch bills.
Warwick Public Schools, a district in Rhode Island, recently was criticized for its decision to serve sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches as the only option to students with lunch debt.
On Wednesday, the district, which said its total outstanding lunch debt is $77,000, backpedaled, recommending students get their choice of lunch regardless of money owed. The debacle at Warwick Public Schools has sparked various fundraising efforts to address the district’s lunch debt.
According to Robbinsdale Area Schools in Minnesota, the district has accumulated more than $300,000 in “unpaid nutritional debt” over several years, it said in a statement Monday.
Schools within the district do not withhold meals from students who have overdue lunch balances, and all students have access to the same menu regardless of account status, a Robbinsdale Area Schools spokesperson told HuffPost.
The district’s nutrition department works with parents and guardians to address lunch debts, the spokesperson added.
In 2018, a fundraising campaign created in honor of Philando Castile by Pamela Fergus, a psychology instructor in Minnesota, raised enough funds to wipe out the debt owed by every student enrolled in the National School Lunch Program throughout the 56 schools in St. Paul Public Schools, including the school where Philando Castile had worked.