This School Turns Leftover Food into Take-Home Meals for Needy Kids

In a pilot program, 20 children went home with an insulated backpack full of food for the weekend.

Apr 9, 2019

School breakfasts and lunches are lifesavers for kids who do not have enough to eat at home. But what happens to these kids on weekends when schools are closed? A pilot program at an Indiana school system is testing a new program that takes food that would have been wasted and turns them into tasty take-out meals for needy kids.

The program sent 20 students from the Woodland Elementary school in Elkhart home last Friday with a specially insulated backpack filled with eight frozen meals for the weekend.

"We had to start a little small because we weren't sure if we would have enough food," Natalie Bickel, the supervisor of student services for Elkhart Community Schools told CNN. "The kids were thrilled, staff were crying, kids were so excited."

That was just a first drop in the bucket for the school district where 64 percent of the students are eligible for either free or reduced-price lunches according to Bickel, who wants to expand the program to all the 21 schools in the 12,000-student district.

"It's heartbreaking, you know, seeing our kids hungry and not being able to do anything about it," Bickel told CNN. She said that when the program was announced, the cafeteria staff stood up and applauded.

The school district partnered with Cultivate, a nonprofit culinary school and catering company in South Bend, Indiana that is devoted to ending the cycle of joblessness and poverty in Northern Indiana. The organization partners with the University of Notre Dame, local caterers, and other food suppliers for food rescue. Now they are working with the Elkhart school district on the pilot program and with two South Bend schools as well.

Cultivate repackages the unused school meals and combine it with other food rescued from caterers to make well balanced nutritious frozen meals. The rescue group goes into five Elkhart school lunch kitchens three times a week to collect the food that was previously going into the trash.

"A meal could consist of a vegetable from the school, protein from the University of Notre Dame and a starch from the Four Winds Casino," Cultivate co-founder and manager Randy Z told CNN.

He knows first-hand what it is to be food insecure saying, "I was the kid who went home with no food and didn't eat on the weekends when I was younger."

Cultivate founded in July 2017, has a paid staff of three and 400 volunteers who turn the donated food into meals. The nonprofits partnership with just one catering company saved 25 tons of food from being wasted in just seven months. A recent law in Indiana makes it easier to donate unused food to where it will do the most good.

This program is a win/win. Food is being used instead of going into landfills, and hungry children are being fed. If the pilot is successful, it can hopefully be implemented district-wide so that no child will go hungry in Elkhart.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.