Philando Castile's Mother Wipes Out School Lunch Debt, Continuing Son's Legacy

May 7, 2019
Originally published on May 7, 2019 9:50 pm

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.

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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In 2016, Philando Castile was fatally shot by a police officer during a traffic stop in Minnesota. Castile was the beloved cafeteria supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School. He was known as the lunch man or Mr. Phil. If a child didn't have enough to eat, he would add some graham crackers to her tray or even use his own money to pay for her lunch.

Castile's legacy of generosity lives on through his mother. Last month, Valerie Castile donated $8,000 to a high school outside Minneapolis to pay off lunch debts for hundreds of students. The money came from the Philando Castile Relief Foundation. It's a nonprofit she founded in her son's name after his death.

Valerie Castile joins me now from her home in Minnesota. Welcome.

VALERIE CASTILE: Hello. How are you today?

CHANG: I'm very good. Thank you so much for joining us today.

I just want to start with your son. You know, Philando was remembered so much for his kindness and his rapport with the students at his school. Can you share a story about just how beloved he was at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School?

CASTILE: One story that resonates with me is a young boy was new to the school. And when he would come in to the cafeteria, he would sit by himself because he didn't know anyone. And my son would come over and talk with him. And he just grabbed his tray and took him to another table with other little boys. And you know, the kids introduced themselves, and he sat with them to have lunch from that day forward.

CHANG: Philando helped to make his first friends.

CASTILE: Yes, he did.

CHANG: So can you talk a little bit about this foundation you started? I mean, how big of a problem is this - young students racking up debt for school lunch?

CASTILE: You know, I don't have children that are school-aged.

CHANG: Yeah.

CASTILE: So I really had no idea of the lunch shaming and kids going without eating. And then to have a debt at the end of the year, I had no knowledge about that. But now that we've been doing things - you know, helping students pay off these debts - it has really come to the surface. A lot of problems in our school districts have really opened up our eyes about the problems that we have in our schools.

CHANG: Do you think this is something that you believe in so much that you would like to push for change at the political level now?

CASTILE: Oh, my God, yes. That's the next step. I mean, our kids have one job, one job only, and that's to go to school, become educated to become the future leaders of this country. And I myself personally - and I think a lot of parents will agree that they should eat lunch free.

CHANG: You know, the story of your son's life - it has moved people so profoundly that your foundation actually isn't the only one doing this kind of work in Philando's memory. What has that been like for you as his mother to watch the impact he has had even after his death?

CASTILE: It's been a journey. Everyone who has came forward in doing anything in honor of Philando - it's just a beautiful thing to watch, you know, even though they tried to make him seem like he was something that he wasn't. You know, he wasn't a thug. You know, he wasn't a gangbanger. And just to see people open up their hearts and their wallets and be so supportive and generous is just absolutely amazing.

CHANG: Valerie Castile is the CEO and president of the Philando Castile Relief Foundation. Thank you so much, Valerie, for joining us today.

CASTILE: Oh, thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MANANA'S "FAST DAYS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.