ST. PAUL (WCCO) — In matter of days, children in St. Paul will leave their summer fun behind. They’ll fill the halls of schools like J.J Hill Montessori and fill their stomachs with well balanced meals.
“No child goes hungry so we ensure that every student has breakfast and also lunch whether they can pay or not,” said Stacy Koppen, Nutritional Services Director for St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS).
Some students are eligible for free lunches but those who aren’t and can’t come up with money run up a debt.
“Lunches just for one elementary student are about $400 a year,” Koppen said.
J.J. Hill’s former cafeteria supervisor, Philando Castile, was always ready to help. Castile was killed in July 2016 in Falcon Heights by a St. Anthony police officer during a traffic stop.
“When a student couldn’t pay for their lunch, a lot of times (Castile) actually paid for their lunch out of his own pocket,” she said.
It’s a gesture that will continue thanks to an idea by Inver Hills Community College professor Pam Fergus.
“His death changed who I am,” Fergus said.
Fergus typically assigns her students in her Diversity and Ethics class a service project, but this time created her own.
It’s called “Philando Feeds the Children.”
The fundraiser on YouCaring.com will help clear lunch debts at J.J. Hill.
“I thought a $5,000 goal was enormous but people are amazing,” said Fergus. In less than a week, more than $3,500 was raised.
Castile’s mother Valerie told WCCO and Fergus she plans to match the final total with her own donation.
“She said the only thing I want for my son is for people to remember him with honor and dignity,” said Fergus.
St. Paul Schools feels the fundraiser will do just that and so much more.
“Not only to honor Philando and his memory but also the carry on the mission that he really and truly felt in his heart,” said Koppen.
In addition to the “Philando Feeds the Children,” St. Paul Schools has its own campaign called “Food for Thought.”
It also allows people to make a donation to clear lunch debts.
“That campaign helped us raise almost $40,000 (last year) and it helped almost 2,000 students wh0 couldn’t pay for their meals,” said Koppen. “This year we have almost 900 students who currently appear that they need our help as well.”