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Philando Castile's mother wipes out school lunch debt, continuing son's legacy

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The mother of Philando Castile has given an $8,000 gift to a Minnesota high school to alleviate school lunch debt. Castile, a school cafeteria supervisor, was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop.
The mother of Philando Castile has given an $8,000 gift to a Minnesota high school to alleviate school lunch debt. Castile, a school cafeteria supervisor, was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop.
Stephen Maturen

Three years after the shooting death of Philando Castile, his legacy of helping others continues. His mother, Valerie Castile, has given $8,000 to a Minnesota high school to settle school lunch debts. The donation, given on behalf of the Philando Castile Relief Foundation, alleviated the lunch debt at Robbinsdale Cooper High School in New Hope, Minn.

Valerie Castile told NPR, "The kids shouldn't have a debt hanging over their heads, and the parents shouldn't either. I just believe that the schools should furnish free meals for our children." 

"Most people are living paycheck to paycheck, and before you get that paycheck in your hand, it's already been taxed. ... I think they should let these children eat a free meal because that may be the only meal they have for the day," she continued.

Carlton Jenkins, superintendent of Robbinsdale-area schools, told NPR that Castile's gift wiped out lunch debts for about a hundred students. "This was a huge humanitarian act in our community," he said. 

Philando Castile was a 32-year-old cafeteria supervisor at the J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in Minnesota when he was fatally shot by a police officer during a 2016 traffic stop. Castile's girlfriend and her 4-year-old daughter were in the car with Castile. His girlfriend livestreamed the shooting on Facebook, earning the incident widespread attention. A jury acquitted the officer who shot Castile, Jeronimo Yanez, of all charges, and he later resigned from the force. 

After his death, Philando Castile's mother received a $2.995 million settlement from the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, and used it to start the Philando Castile Relief Foundation. Valerie told NPR that she started the foundation to "keep him alive." The foundation's mission is to help people who have been affected by gun and police violence, and to help those in times of need or grief. 

Philando Castile frequently paid for the lunches of students who owed money or couldn't afford them. "He understood that the children are the future leaders of this country, and it was his obligation to take care of them best he could, while they were in his company," Valerie Castile told NPR. 

Jenkins told NPR, "[Valerie Castile] wanted to keep that alive."

Valerie Castile says her son cared for his school's students in other ways as well. She says a former student, who was new to the school, remembers Castile introducing him to his first friends there. "My son would come over and talk with him, and he would just grab his tray and take him over to a table with other little boys. ... My son took that initiative and made those introductions for the child, so he would feel more comfortable and at home at his school," she said.

According to the School Nutrition Association, student lunch debt is rising. President Truman established the National School Lunch Program in 1946, which provides federal funding for public and nonprofit private schools to offer free or reduced-price lunch to kids whose families qualify.   Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.