Philando Castile Fundraiser Pays Off School Lunch Debt

“Out of our wounds, red roses bloom” read the sign, which was part of a memorial to Philando Castile in front of the Minnesota governor’s residence in 2016.

Castile was a lunchroom supervisor at a magnet school in Minnesota who often paid the kids’ lunches when they couldn’t, before he was brutally gunned down by a police officer in July 2016. 

A charity started by Pamela Fergus is making those roses bloom. “Philando Feeds the Children,” is honoring Castile’s legacy by paying off the lunch debt owed by every student in the St. Paul Public Schools. Last week Fergus delivered a check for $35,000, which will take care of the lunch debt of all students enrolled in the free-or- reduced-price lunch at all 56 schools in the district.

On July 6, 2016, Castile  was shot and killed by Jeronimo Yanez during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights, a suburb of Saint Paul. The incident was captured on live-streamed video and posted to Facebook by Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car with her four-year-old daughter.

Yanez told Castile that he had pulled him over because a brake light was out. After Castile handed over a piece of paper, he said, “Sir, I have to tell you. I do have a firearm on me.” In response Yanez yelled, “Don’t reach for it then,” and “Don’t pull it out then” twice. Castile was very still and did not reach for anything. Nevertheless a panicked Yanez pulled out his own gun and shot Castile seven times.

This horrible abuse leading to a tragic death is what most people know of Philando Castile.

But for the students at J.J.Hill Montessori Magnet School he was Mr. Phil, a kind lunchroom supervisor who often paid for their food out of his own pocket. He had joined the nutrition services department of St. Paul Public Schools in 2002, at age 19, was promoted to supervisor in 2014, and had worked at J.J. Hill for a few years before his untimely death.

“We are merely trying to continue Mr. Phil’s kind spirit,” says Pamela Fergus, a psychology instructor at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, who created the fundraiser. “He loved those kids.”

Fergus started the charity as a project for her Psychology 212 class.

She explains to WBUR’s “Here and Now,” that since there was a dashcam video of the event, she was sure Yanez would be found guilty of second-degree manslaughter. 

So when he was acquitted of all charges she says, “My life changed that day. This was a guy who worked in education. And I just, I felt some kind of connection.”

It was after contacting Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, that Fergus learned about how Mr. Phil routinely pulled three bucks out of his pocket when one of the students couldn’t pay for lunch.

Creating this fundraiser seemed like the perfect way for Fergus to honor him.

“When we first started this fund, I presented this as a little project to my diversity and ethics class,” Fergus says, “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.”

As of this week, her charity has raised a total of $177, 898.

Speaking to Castile’s mom, Fergus discovered that if kids didn’t have enough money to pay for lunch, they would be given a different meal, to their extreme embarrassment. And that’s why the lunchroom supervisor had to step in and help.

This practice is known as school lunch shaming and it happens all over the U.S. Care2’s Lowell Williams told us about a child in Alabama who was sent home with a message stamped on his arm: “I need lunch money.”

A few years ago, Georgia Representative Jack Kingston suggested that low-income children should sweep floors in return for their subsidized lunches, while in Virginia when a student took a carton of milk that he was entitled to, he had to undergo the humiliation of being handcuffed by a school security officer while his peers watched.

As Williams reported, in 2017 New Mexico became the first state to legally prohibit lunch shaming so we can hope that other states will follow suit.

Thanks to Pamela Fergus, there’s a silver lining to the horrible tragedy of Philando Castile; he will be honored for his kindness and his fight to end lunch-shaming.


Photo Credit: Fibonnaci Blue


Marie W
Marie W6 months ago


Chad A
Chad Anderson10 months ago

Thank you!

Lesa D
Past Member 11 months ago


thank you Judy...

Sue H
Sue H11 months ago

Wonderful outcome for a sorry situation.

John W
John Wabout a year ago


sharon b
sharon babout a year ago

I've never heard of lunch shaming. In California we try to feed every child and there is no discrimination that I have ever seen. Parents are supposed to be responsible of course and pay or enroll in the lunch program which provides breakfast and lunch and even provides lunch during the summer.

Winn A
Winn Aabout a year ago

:-) Yippeeeeee

John W
John Wabout a year ago


Angel W
Past Member about a year ago


Cate S
Cate Sabout a year ago

So many tragedies. What a great man he was.