School Cafeteria Turns Leftover Food Into Frozen Take-Home Meals For Kids

by Valerie Williams
Image via YouTube/WSBT News

School cafeteria and nonprofit food rescue team up to make sure kids don’t go hungry on weekends

An Indiana school district is teaming up with a local food rescue program to make sure that cafeteria leftovers aren’t wasted and instead, go home with kids who might not have enough to eat on weekends.

Elkhart Community Schools and the nonprofit organization Cultivate have worked together to create a pilot program that will send weekend meals home with a small group of students at Woodland Elementary. According to WSBT News, each child is sent home with a backpack of eight frozen meals made with food the cafeteria prepared for lunches, but never served. The eventual goal is for the program to spread to other schools in the district.

Kids in the district are able to get breakfast and lunch at school, but some may be without much food on weekends, and that’s where the program hopes to fill a gap. Jim Conklin of Cultivate explains that his organization actually gets food from a number of sources. “Mostly, we rescue food that’s been made but never served by catering companies, large food service businesses, like the school system,” he says. “You don’t always think of a school.”

So the unused food is “rescued” and turned into portable frozen dinners for kids to bring home. “Over-preparing is just part of what happens,” Conklin says. “We take well-prepared food, combine it with other food and make individual frozen meals out if it.”

A total of 20 elementary students are currently benefitting from the pilot program at Woodland. They bring home eight frozen meals every Friday and will do so until the end of the school year. Natalie Bickel, who works in student services at the district, says the move was a pretty obvious one. “At Elkhart Community Schools, we were wasting a lot of food,” she explains. “There wasn’t anything to do with the food. So they came to the school three times a week and rescued the food.”

The Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Academy is the group that spearheaded the effort to get the pilot program going. Melissa Ramey is a member of the Academy and says, “It’s making a big impact. 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.”

It certainly is, and school cafeterias are no strangers to being innovative when it comes to finding ways to feed kids who may be food insecure. Some elementary schools already have “share tables” where unused food is left for other children to take if they need something more to eat.

As much as we wish America simply kept all children fed as a matter of course, it’s wonderful to see schools and other organizations stepping up and filling in where needed. Hopefully, this pilot program expands in their district — and catches on in other states too. If you’d like to donate to Cultivate and help support their work feeding those in need, you may do so here.