ST. PAUL, Minn. - A fundraiser in honor of Philando Castile—focused on eliminating student lunch debt—is close to raising $100,000.
Organizer Pam Fergus said it has far exceeded their expectations.
"At these strange moments it hits me, the generosity that people have already shown," Fergus said.
The idea started as a class project. Fergus was teaching a diversity and ethics class at Metropolitan State University in the fall that included a diversity project. Fergus approached Castile's mother, Valerie Castile, about the idea of raising money to pay for students' lunch debt at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul.
Castile—who was killed by a police officer during a 2016 traffic stop—worked at the school as a cafeteria supervisor.
"She (Valerie) said, 'He would love this whole idea,'" Fergus recalled. "She said Philando would come home every single day and call me and tell me about school that day and he would tell me about how many kids that he actually had to pay for lunch because they were so in debt in their lunch account."
The YouCaring campaign, "Philando Feeds the Children," had an initial goal of raising $5,000. In the first week of putting it online, they raised $17,000.
Not only were they able to pay for J.J. Hill's lunch debt but Fergus explained, "At about the $60,000-70,000 mark... we are committed now to be able to pay off all of the schools in the St. Paul Public School system—all of the elementary, middle and high schools effectively have... no lunch debt."
As of Wednesday night, the YouCaring campaign had raised more than $98,000. Fergus hopes to hit $100,000 before the end of the year.
While the class is over, the work continues.
According to Fergus, "Philando Feeds the Children" is run by her and two others, saying, "We get paid nothing. It's just three people."
They're currently in the process of applying for a nonprofit status and have a new goal of raising $1 million so they can cover lunch debt for school districts beyond St. Paul.
Fergus said, "My personal goal is to shut it down when there is no school lunch debt in the state of Minnesota anymore. When school lunches are just provided to kids. Everybody gets a lunch."