KINGSPORT, Tenn. (AP) — When Jackson Elementary School instructional aide Angie Hyche saw all the food that was wasted every school day in the Kingsport public school's cafeteria, she did more than just fret.
She helped find a solution with help from the Rock and Wrap It Up! anti-poverty think tank.
In just two months, more than a thousand pounds of food once destined for the trash at Jackson instead has been measured and sent to area children, a program she hopes to see replicated throughout the region.
Hyche said she always wondered what could be done with the food wasted in school cafeterias, food that even if sealed and unopened was going in the trash and ending up in a landfill.
After doing some checking, Hyche said she found there was no law the perfectly good food couldn't leave the cafeteria or the building to be eaten once a student and/or the free and reduced meal program pays for it, although it cannot go back to the kitchen to be served again.
Hyche talked with Sid Mandelbaum of Rock and Wrap It Up! in New York and came up with a plan.
"We are so happy," Supervisor of School Nutrition Services Jennifer Walker said. "Once it leaves the kitchen, it cannot come back."
But Walker said it can go home with the students, be eaten by other students or donated to the Rock and Wrap It Up! program.
For instance, she said at Johnson Elementary, a "community table" held food that students did not want that was available to all other students, although at the end of the lunch period it had to be thrown out if not taken.
She said a good thing about the Rock and Wrap It Up! program is that when the food is weighed, a formula is available that gives the day's donations in the equivalent of number of meals and lessening of greenhouse gases. It's called the Whole Earth Calculator.
"That is motivational to the kids," Walker said.
Hyche said she hasn't yet shared that result with the children doing the weighing, which since Nov. 4 has been fifth graders Yahir Munoz and Laura Murphy, both 10.
"It's kind of fun," Yahir said, while Laura said, "I like it because I get to see how much food we are saving instead of throwing it away."
The national group got its name from its roots, which go back to rock bands that wanted to help the hungry and stop food waste by having their leftover catered food donated to groups that could use it.
Hyche said a good Samaritan law protects those involved from lawsuits over the food causing sickness, although she said every precaution is taken to be sure the food is properly refrigerated and stored.
With help and support from Board of Education Vice President Susan Lodal, who is president of the Tennessee School Boards Association, Walker, Jackson Principal Holly Flora and Jackson Family Liaison Jaclyn Clendenen, the Jackson cafeteria in September began collecting unopened food for reuse from the grades K-5 school.
"We started saving anything that had not been eaten and had not been opened," Hyche said, explaining that milk, yogurt and even fruit in a plastic bag could be saved. "It's a lot of milk and juice. It's a lot of fruit and veggies, yogurt and string cheese," Hyche said, adding that carrots, celery, apples and graham crackers are among the items saved.
Two refrigerators donated to the program hold the food, which since mid-October Student Council members have weighed each day. Since then, the students have documented more than 1,000 pounds of food, which the Jackson students place in a special container as they clean their lunch trays.
As of the last day for the fall semester, Hyche said the student had collected 1,351 pounds of food, "which converts to the equivalent of 1,039 donated meals and 1,025 pounds of carbon dioxide averted equivalents."
Food goes to local kids. Each Monday, Wednesday and Friday, the food goes to Girls Inc., and each Tuesday and Thursday, it goes to the Boys and Girls Club. In addition, it is sometimes used in the YMCA after-school programs at the school if the two other groups can't use it, and students in the cafeteria when the food is collected may request it, too.
Each day, instructional assistants and Student Council members help collect all unopened food and save it in the two refrigerators. Loose items like meat, bread or vegetables not in containers cannot be saved, but Hyche said she's checking into the possibility of starting a composting program at Jackson.
In November, she went to the school system's leadership team and also to the TSBA meeting in Nashville and along with Mandelbaum made a presentation on the Jackson food program.
She said Jefferson Elementary is working on implementing the program and that Roosevelt Elementary has started one. She said almost every elementary school in the city system has or is putting in place some sort of food saving program.
Information from: Kingsport Times-News, http://www.timesnews.net
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