Three years after the officer-involved shooting death of Philando Castile, the family of the popular cafeteria supervisor for St. Paul Public Schools continues to add to his legacy.
Last month, Castile's mother, Valerie, delivered an $8,000 check on behalf of the Philando Castile Relief Foundation to help pay off student lunch debts at Cooper High School in New Hope. The money will be used to help families who have been unable to pay back the debt over the course of a school year or several school years.
"Our kids are the future leaders of our country and we need to take care of them in every way possible," Valerie Castile said Friday. "Most families live paycheck to paycheck, and the last thing they need to be worrying about is how can I pay this debt at the end of the year."
Philando Castile, who was fatally shot by a St. Anthony police officer during a traffic stop in 2016, had been a nutrition supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul.
Before his death, he frequently paid for the lunches of students who owed lunch money to lessen the burden for families. The foundation in his name will help continue what he started, Valerie Castile said, adding that her son "still breathes" through each of the students.
Helping others "is the way to keep Philando alive, [because] it was something that he did, and he started," she said. "What I'm doing [are] things that my son felt in his heart, and that's children, family and community."
Currently, Robbinsdale Area Schools has more than $300,000 in student lunch debt, said Cooper Principal Frank Herman.
For Herman and district Superintendent Carlton Jenkins, the donation not only relieves stress on families, but it also gives each student a chance to see that something good can come from a tragedy.
"For students, this kind of modeling can be powerful," Herman said. "They might not do anything right away, but maybe down the line they will pay it forward because of the generosity they received."
The Philando Castile Relief Foundation has helped address lunch debt in the St. Paul district and annually awards a scholarship of $5,000 to a St. Paul Central High School senior.
"I'm just doing whatever I can to bring a little relief into people's lives, and everything I do revolves around my son and who he was," Valerie Castile said.
The officer who shot Castile, Jeronimo Yanez, was charged with second-degree manslaughter and firearms violations. A Ramsey County jury acquitted Yanez of all charges and he later resigned from the force.
David Mullen is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.