There is a lot of food wasted in school cafeterias. What if that waste could instead assist children in need? Turns out, there’s a brilliant solution that helps out all around, both reducing waste and putting food in the mouths of children who might need some free meal items. Some schools are adopting what are known as “share tables” or “share bins.”
These bins allow students to leave behind items in their lunch boxes they don’t want for another student to grab.
According to the Texas Student Fairness in Feeding Act, signed into law in late 2017, school districts are implementing this solution and seeing a lot of success with the easy idea.
Jenny Arredondo, a child nutrition senior executive director for the city’s school system, noted: “Food insecurity is a major issue. It is a huge problem within our district, so a bill like this that has passed, our students are really the ones that are going to benefit from it.”
Interestingly, before the bill was passed, there were laws that didn’t allow districts to give any unwanted lunchbox food to students and, according to federal law, cafeterias couldn’t serve food again from the previous day.
As a result, there was a lot of food going to waste.
Kittiya Johnson, principal at Cody Elementary in San Antonio, Texas, noted: “It was hard because kids would ask, ‘Do you mind if I can have this for my friends?’ And many times we’d have to tell them no.”
Johnson added: “We did see quite a bit of waste. The kids would comment on it. ‘Well, are we just gonna throw it away?’ And also the teachers would make those comments.”
Now Texas schools can give any unused non-perishable items to kids who want it and create food banks and other programs to help feed hungry students.
Similarly, in Michigan, schools are also putting this idea in motion, and it’s proven to be a huge success.
Dan Gorman, Food Service Director for Montague Area Schools, explained: “When we started to have the food that students didn’t want, we’d have a situation where other students would want it.”
He continued: “I think in our communities and most communities in West Michigan that there are some of those families, and so being able to help and supplement those families, that’s a good thing.”
Gorman further noted that they’re seeking other ways to reduce waste, but found the share table a good initiative, noting: “the other part of it is that some kids were still a little hungry and so they might want a little bit more so we wanted to provide a place that they can go with no stigma and just grab something extra to have for lunch or breakfast.”
One mom noted that taking a little time to pack some extra foods in her daughter’s lunchbox specifically for the share bin is rewarding. She explained: “So many kids are faced with hunger… to know that they know when they go to school, even if they don’t have a lunch, they’ll still have food — makes my heart happy to know that.”
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