Family & Parenting

This School District Is Turning Unused Cafeteria Food Into Take-Home Meals For Kids

What a great idea!

According to the USDA, “Americans waste enough food every day to fill a 90,000 seat football stadium.” And while we may not realize it, some of that food waste is coming from school cafeterias, and children are still going home hungry. One Indiana-based school district is looking to put an end to that.

By partnering with local food-rescue nonprofit Cultivate, Elkhart Community Schools is working to ensure that their elementary school students have food — even on the weekends.

The school serves breakfast and lunch at school throughout the week, but over the weekends, there are students who struggle to have enough to eat.

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Cultivate specializes in taking unused food from local organizations and repurposing it into pre-packaged meals so that Indiana locals stay well-fed.

“Over-preparing is just part of what happens,” Jim Conklin, the president and co-founder of Cultivate, told WJLA News. “We take well-prepared food, combine it with other food and make individual frozen meals out if it.”

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The nonprofit finds unused food where you might least expect it. “Mostly, we rescue food that’s been made but never served by catering companies, large food service businesses, like the school system,” Conklin told WJLA. “You don’t always think of a school.”

Natalie Bickel from student services agreed, saying, “At Elkhart Community Schools, we were wasting a lot of food. There wasn’t anything to do with the food. So they came to the school three times a week and rescued the food.”

On the Cultivate Facebook page, you can see that the meals are packaged to look similar to Lunchable — which is sure to appeal to a kid:

The partnership is solving the school’s problem of over-preparing food and keeping students from going hungry when they’re not at school. Through the partnership, 20 students will receive a backpack with eight prepared meals inside.

These backpacks, which Cultivate showed on Facebook, will keep 20 students from struggling to eat when school’s not in session:

And the school district is only hoping to grow the program.

“It’s making a big impact,” Melissa Ramey of the Chamber Leadership Academy told WJLA. “I am proud of that. It was heartbreaking to hear that children go home on the weekends and that they don’t have anything to eat.”

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According to Feeding America, one in six children in America don’t know where their next meal will come from. As the site explains:

Kids who don’t get enough to eat — especially during their first three years — begin life at a serious disadvantage. When they’re hungry, children are more likely to be hospitalized and they face higher risks of health conditions like anemia and asthma. And as they grow up, kids struggling to get enough to eat are more likely to have problems in school and other social situations.

So, thankfully, it’s not just this Indiana school district that’s working to put an end to child hunger in America.

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For example, in 2018, Marion County, Florida, students had access to a summer food service program, which fed students breakfast, lunch, snacks and some dinners, regardless of family income.

And during a teacher strike that kept schools out of session in March 2018, West Virginia teachers packed lunches for their students to make sure they didn’t go hungry while school wasn’t in session.

A couple of teachers told Today.com about their efforts, recalling how the faculty gathered their funds to buy water, fruit and other snacks and made plans to hand the food out at a local grocery store.

“A lot of our students depend on school breakfast and lunch as some of their most consistent meals,” Jennifer Wood, from the West Virginia American Federation of Teachers, told Today.com. “Our teachers wouldn’t feel comfortable if their students weren’t taken care of.”

Little Caesar’s and Sam’s Club also donated to the teachers’ cause as well.

You can see the teachers assembling the lunches in this video from the American Federation of Teachers-West Virginia Facebook page:

These are just a couple of examples of ways school districts and education professionals are working to keep children well-fed.

If you’d like to donate to the cause to help out, too, you can make a donation directly to Cultivate or to other organizations such as Feeding America, No Kid Hungry and others.

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What do you think of this school district’s plans? Should other cities follow suit?