Schools rescue food to reduce hunger
La PORTE — Area elementary schools have begun collecting for a food rescue to help reduce hunger in La Porte.
The rescue is coordinated by Purdue Extension Nutrition Education Program, which works to improve the nutrition and health of those with limited resources. Through this program, leftover food from elementary school lunches is salvaged and distributed to local food pantries.
“Kids are required by law to take a certain number of items from the cafeteria, but they are not required to eat it,” Community Wellness Coordinator Caroline Arnett explained. “Milk, cheese and fruit are often tossed in the garbage and added to a landfill. This is a shame, as so many families in La Porte County need that nutrition!”
Arnett helps coordinate the rescues with local care agencies, some of which include the Pax Center and Salvation Army of La Porte.
On average, the program collects anywhere from 50 to 300 donated food items in four school buildings, of which most have a donation pick up two times a week.
Arnett and her team approached La Porte’s elementary schools about taking up the collection of unopened food. School Child Nutrition Director Britney McCray got the ball rolling on implementing a collection operation within the school corporation.
“Chef McCray is the one who really makes this project sustainable,” Arnett said.
McCray’s system calls for only quality items to be made available for donation.
“Before implementing the program, we reached out to the local La Porte County Health Department for their guidance regarding food donations. They responded by saying that if an item is unopened and temperature controlled within a reasonable time (approximately one half hour) after being placed in a container, the food can be donated to a charitable entity. Shared food items should only be prepackaged, sealed, and unopened food items. Examples include PB&J sandwiches, yogurt, milk, string cheese, graham crackers, bananas, oranges, factory sealed cupped fruit,” McCray explained.
All of the participating school’s lunch workers and supervisors have implemented the Health Department approved system and use different methods for collecting.
McCray described the collection process, “the items are unopened, which allows us to collect and donate to organizations in need. Most of the buildings have a cart or table specifically used for collecting the food items. The students place their donated items on the cart before discarding their trash and retiring their tray to the dish washer. Other buildings have their students place their donated items in the center of their table. Once the students are dismissed an aide collects the donated items. In between meal periods my staff retrieves the donated items and places the temperature sensitive food under refrigeration in storage containers.”
Arnett has ambitions to set up food collections anywhere that unused food exists in La Porte County.
“It’s not just elementary schools that can be involved with food rescues, it’s any organization that has extra food going in the trash,” Arnett said. “There is a lot of good food being tossed in La Porte County, and I’d love to help make connections between agencies to end food waste!”
Those interested in setting up a food rescue with their company should contact Caroline Arnett at Arnettc@purdue.edu or dial (219) 324-9407.