Dec 172013

Thought this article in the East Bay Express represented some good progress for helping families with food insecurity:

Nationwide, school cafeterias waste more than $600 million worth of food each year, according to a 2002 USDA report examining “plate waste” — the most recent of such studies. “I imagine that it’s more than that now,” said Kelly ErnstFriedman, program director at Food Shift, an Oakland-based nonprofit that manages a school lunch recovery program with the Oakland Unified School District.

Most extra food produced by schools in the United States ends up in landfills, including whole fruits, hot foods, and unopened milk cartons. That’s because strict federal meal program rules concerning the handling of cafeteria food prohibit schools from giving away most food, even if it’s uneaten or untouched.

For anyone who has ever volunteered or worked at a school lunch, it’s appalling to see just how much food cafeterias throw out every day. Even unopened, unexpired milk is tossed out. And in an effort to avoid cartons going into the landfill, “someone had to open milk cartons and dump it out,” said Nancy Deming, Sustainability Initiatives program manager at OUSD. “It’s become a morale issue.” Custodial staff, teachers, parents, and cafeteria workers would stand over buckets after lunch period, open cartons and pour milk out.

One way to sidestep the conundrum is to donate leftovers to a nonprofit. OUSD, as a result, has partnered with Food Shift, which focuses on reducing food waste, feeding those in need, and creating jobs.

During the last few weeks of school last spring, Food Shift piloted a food giveaway program at two schools. In just 5 weeks, volunteers collected 3,000 pounds of food and gave them away to 49 families. Parent volunteers gave away packaged burritos, chow mein, broccoli, beans, hamburgers, bagels, crackers, applesauce, cookies, whole fruits, and milk to families after school.

“This is one of the first steps we can take — recovering the food and giving it away,” said ErnstFriedman. Organizations like Food Shift are covered under the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, which limits the liability of donating food to nonprofits and those in need.  Link to article