Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile who was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in 2016, has spent the years since her son’s death advocating for free school meals and eliminating school lunch debt. Her advocacy has now paid off, with Governor Tim Walz signing a bill that provides for free school meals for every student in Minnesota’s public and charter schools, effectively wiping out school lunch debt in the state. Castile was present at the State Capitol to watch the debate on the bill and the vote in the Senate, expressing her joy at the outcome.
In honor of her son, Valerie created the Philando Castile Relief Foundation, which helps families who have lost loved ones to gun violence and reduces negative lunch balances within school districts. In 2017, the foundation launched a “Philando Feeds the Children” campaign, which was able to pay off St. Paul’s lunch debt. Valerie felt that this was the best way to honor her son’s legacy, who was known as the “lunch man” or “Mr. Phil” at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School, where he had been a cafeteria manager. Valerie also spoke with Governor Mark Dayton about the lunch debt before he left office, as well as Governor Walz, about pushing for the bill that would provide for free school meals.
Valerie has raised $200,000 through the Philando Castile Relief Foundation to forgive lunch debt at schools in St. Paul, Minneapolis, Osseo, Brooklyn Center, Roseville, Robbinsdale, and more. The foundation presented a $15,000 check in February to Central Park Elementary School in Roseville for lunch debt relief, with Senator Clare Oumou Verbeten, DFL-St. Paul and a Central Park graduate, attending the event and speaking about Philando Castile during the debate on the bill.
Valerie plans to re-evaluate her work and shift her focus to helping single mothers achieve financial independence by providing them with opportunities to pursue education and secure employment. She believes that this is something her son would have wanted, as he had a big impact on many people’s lives, changing the course of their careers and helping them turn their lives around.
The passing of the bill that provides free school meals for every student in Minnesota’s public and charter schools is a significant step forward for Valerie and her son’s legacy. Valerie feels that this is not a handout, but an investment in Minnesota’s children. She believes that providing free school meals will help students perform better academically and will positively impact their overall well-being.
Valerie’s advocacy for free school meals and eliminating school lunch debt has received recognition in local and national media, which has helped raise awareness about the issue. She hopes that other states will follow Minnesota’s lead and provide free school meals to all students. Through her work, Valerie is determined to make a positive impact on the lives of families and children, just like her son Philando did during his time as a cafeteria manager at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School.