My daughter attends a Title I school—in fact, all the schools in our district are Title I. That means that a minimum of 40% of the students are considered low-income. It also means that all students receive two meals a day, breakfast and lunch, for free. There’s also a summer food program that offers free breakfast and lunch for four weeks beginning shortly after school lets out for the summer.
You can imagine how worried some staff members were for our students when the polar vortex hit this winter and school was closed for seven of fifteen school days. Given that so many of our families are considered low-income, it’s a safe bet that we have a significant number of students who are food insecure and who rely on the schools for regular meals.
Thinking about all this, it was an absolute joy to come across an article in The Washington Post recently describing a pilot program in which excess cafeteria food that would normally be thrown away is instead repackaged and sent home with students who need it. The program is taking place among a small group of 20 students identified by school social workers at Woodland Elementary in Elkhart, IN. It is being done in partnership with the South Bend, IN-based non-profit Cultivate, which specializes in rescuing wasted food. Food from the cafeteria is taken to Cultivate’s facilities, where staff and volunteers package a protein, a vegetable, and a starch into recyclable containers. The food is then frozen. Each weekend students are given eight meals, which they carry home in cooler backpacks that were given to them by the school.
Ensuring that children receive proper nutrition is vital to their academic success. “’Hungry children have lower math scores. They are also are more likely to repeat a grade, come to school late, or miss it entirely’ due to illness.” As another Indiana educator whose school participates in Cultivate’s program said, “Our goal is to feed hungry kids, and we want to see improved school performance, whether it’s academic, behavior, or attendance.”
In addition, programs like this one (Cultivate also works with caterers and other large event venues) help ensure that extra food doesn’t go to waste. In 2012, the National Resource Defense Council estimated that up to 40% of food in America goes uneaten—can you imagine?! Even one program that helps eliminate food waste at one school is making a difference in that number.
Of course, the Cultivate and Woodland Elementary partnership’s biggest impact is on the students it’s helping, ensuring that twenty fewer children are going hungry—and that’s the most important impact it could have.