Charity honoring Philando Castile erases lunch debt for students

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(ABC) -

In life, Philando Castile couldn't bear seeing students at the Minnesota school he worked as a cafeteria supervisor go without lunch.

Friends remember him frequently digging into his own pocket to make sure children didn't go hungry.

Less than two years after he was shot to death by a police officer during a roadside stop, a charity established in his honor has raised more than enough money to erase the school lunch debt of every student in the St. Paul School District, assuring that all 37,000 children are fed.

PHOTO: The grave of Philando Castile at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis on the one-year anniversary of his death, July 6, 2017.

David Carson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS via Getty Images

"Philando is STILL reaching into his pocket, and helping a kid out. One by one," the charity announced on the fund-raising site this week.

Pamela Fergus, a psychology professor at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul, and about 20 students in her diversity and ethics class established the online "Philando Feeds the Children" charity in August. As of Sunday, up to 3,400 donors have contributed more than $131,000.

On Tuesday, Fergus handed over a check for a little over $35,000 to the nutritional program at the St. Paul School District to pay off the debt of all students who qualify for reduced lunch programs, she told ABC News Sunday.

PHOTO: Protesters carry a portrait of Philando Castile on June 16, 2017 in St. Paul, Minn.

Stephen Maturen/Getty Images, FILE

Under the school district's rules, low-income students who have lunch debts cannot apply for reduced or free lunch program until the debt is cleared, Fergus said.

"My goal is that we'll keep it going until the state of Minnesota provides food for all kids," Fergus said. "Students shouldn't be in debt over lunch."

Castile, 32, was fatally shot by St. Anthony, Minnesota, police Officer Jeronimo Yanez on July 6, 2016, after being pulled over because Yanez thought he matched the description of a robbery suspect. Castile's girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was in the car with her then 4-year-old daughter, recorded the aftermath of the shooting on Facebook Live.

Castile, who worked as a cafeteria supervisor for J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in Saint Paul, told Yanez he had a licensed firearm in his glove compartment before he reached in to fetch his identification and registration. Yanez fired seven shots at Castile, later telling his supervisors he thought the man was grabbing his gun.

In June, Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter charges in connection with Castile's death.

Fergus said that while she never met Castile, she has heard much about him from his mother, Valerie Castile, who has been a strong supporter of the charity.

PHOTO: Philando Castile, 32, was shot and killed by police in Minnesota during a traffic stop, July 6, 2016.

Philando Castile, 32, was shot and killed by police in Minnesota during a traffic stop, July 6, 2016.

"It just amazed me. Valerie told me how much Philando loved what he did every day," Fergus told ABC News. "He was just a loving, giving human being."

She said she and her students started the charity with the initial goal of raising $5,000. By December, the charity had raised more than $104,000, Fergus said.

"I remember when he was killed and how it shocked me," Fergus said. "Then finding out that he was in education, just hit me and inspired me and my students to turn something tragic into something positive."

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