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School District Packs Up Unused Cafeteria Food, Sends It Home With Kids In Need



A school in the Midwest is going the extra step of ensuring that students will be able to eat not only on campus, but at home as well.

Young students at Woodland Elementary School in Elkhart, Indiana, are fed breakfast and lunch throughout the school week, but when some students get home, they face empty fridges and pantries–an increasingly common problem that often remains hidden in American society.

To ensure that all children’s nutrition needs continue to be met, the school teamed up with non-profit organization Cultivate Culinary to ensure that students aren’t just bringing assignments home–but are also bringing home meals to last them throughout the weekend.

On Cultivate’s website, the group stresses the need to serve impoverished and poverty-stricken communities in northeast Indiana and to end the cycle of joblessness and hunger in the region.

The organization also cites James 1:27 in its mission statement:

“God considers it pure and genuine love to help someone in need.” 

With that biblical passage in mind, the group gathers healthy, edible food from local businesses that would otherwise go to waste, and distributing it to needy folks throughout Indiana.

Cultivate president and co-founder Jim Conklin told WSBT:

“Mostly we rescue food that’s been made but never served by catering companies, large food service businesses, like the school system. You don’t always think of a school …  And over-preparing is just part of what happens. And we take that well-prepared prepared food combine it with other food and make individual frozen meals out of it.”

Every Friday, twenty students at Woodland Elementary will get a backpack filled with eight individual frozen meals. Participants will receive those backpacks throughout the duration of the school year.

Student services worker Natalie Bickel credited the group for salvaging leftovers in the school cafeteria, turning waste into prepared meals that fill the bellies of students in need. Bickel said:

 “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.”

The Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Academy Commerce also helped initiate the program. Melissa Ramey with the Chamber Leadership Academy explained:

“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.”

The Elkhart district has been impressed by the positive results of the program and is looking forward to expanding to other public schools.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, an estimated one in five children is at risk of hunger, with one-third of all Black and Latino youth facing the risk of hunger. Many children receive free daily lunches at school, but less than half also receive breakfast–and only 10 percent have access to meals during summer break.

In the meantime, about 40 percent of all food in the United States is thrown away, despite the poverty and hunger faced by tens of millions of Americans.


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