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How Philando Castile Inspired A Charity To Pay Off School Lunch Debt In Minnesota

A charity named in honor of Philando Castile says it has paid off the school lunch debt for hundreds of kids in Minnesota. Castile was killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in 2016.

Here & Now‘s Peter O’Dowd speaks with Pam Fergus, who started the charity, Philando Feeds the Children.

Interview Highlights

On starting the fund

“When we first started this fund, I presented this as a little project to my diversity and ethics class, and we were going to try to raise $5,000 to pay off just the lunch debt at the school where Philando Castile was the lunchroom supervisor. And I thought, ‘$5,000 in four months, how can we possibly do this?’ And at the end of that four months, we had $104,000, and we had a lot of schools letting us know that they would like some help. So, yeah, total amazement.”

On having no relation to Castile or his family

“Right, I didn’t. When he was killed, I was shocked. Most people know that his girlfriend in the car livestreamed that via her phone to Facebook. And I couldn’t stand to watch him die, and then was angry, but was really convinced — I’d convinced myself that a year later when it went to court and that police officer was charged with murder, I thought, you know, ‘Here’s the one case where justice can happen because there’s a dashcam video.’ You can see him being very calm and very still and not reaching for anything. And then you see the utter panic of that police officer. And I thought, ‘Here’s the thing. This is going to turn the tide in this country, finally. And then he was acquitted. My life was changed that day. This was a guy who worked in education. And I just, I felt some kind of connection.”

On what she learned about Castile through talking to his mother

“I think I really got to know him because his mother loves to talk about him. I mean when I called her on the Sunday where I thought of this fundraising for food debt, we were on the phone for probably three or four hours, and she was just telling me stories. She sent me photos of him as a little boy. You know it was obvious that he was just a regular guy. He was just like anybody else.”

On the charity

“When I found out from Valerie [Castile, his mother,] that Philando hated when kids didn’t have the money, and they’d be given a different lunch from everybody else, and how embarrassing that was, and that he could just imagine himself stuck in that same place, and he couldn’t do it. So, you know, his pocket — three bucks, three bucks, you know, every time a kid couldn’t pay. I just thought, ‘Well that’s a nice way to honor him, is by continuing to pull three bucks out of a pocket somewhere to help pay for school lunch.’ ”

On lunch subsidy programs

“The paperwork that parents have to do to find out whether they qualify is very off-putting. It looks like government forms and that can be scary for some parents who maybe are new to this country or something. And the naysayers who find their way back to me basically say, ‘You know, these parents, they have to find a way to pay. We’re just enabling them,’ or whatever. And we just think it comes down to, ‘Does that kid have a meal in front of them at the lunchtable?’ And it doesn’t matter why a parent can’t pay. Maybe it is just the paperwork is so hard, but maybe — I think for the majority of them, they simply don’t make enough money.”

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