April 10, 2019

Steal this idea: Repurposing cafeteria food

A good solution in one community can be applied in yours. Here's an idea from a school located in Elkhart, Indiana.

Saving excess food from lunch ensures that no student will go hungry. Photo by Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Editor’s note: The Renewal Project knows that good ideas start at the local level. From time to time, we will share some of our favorite ideas from across the country that you can explore in your own communities. Have an idea you want us to share? Let us know at info@therenewalproject.com.

Filling up backpacks: This nonprofit is teaming up with an elementary school to fill economically disadvantaged children’s backpacks with take home meals. A food-rescue nonprofit in South Bend called Cultivate Culinary School & Catering is repurposing and repackaging excess cafeteria food for students whose families live in poverty. The goal is to make sure students don’t go hungry and uneaten food doesn’t go to waste.

A group of 20 children who attend Woodland Elementary School in Elkhart is participating in this food-rescue pilot program. Each child is given a backpack, that also acts as a cooler, and eight frozen meals, that are packaged in recyclable containers, to eat over the weekend. Many children who come from low-income families rely on free or reduced-price school lunches to get the proper amount of nutrition; however, during weekends, it is hard to find affordable meals. According to the United States Census Bureau, nearly 13 percent of children ages 5 to 17 in families live in poverty. Natalie Bickel, the supervisor of student services for Elkhart Community Schools, told CNN that 64 percent of the more than 12,000 students in Elkhart district are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch. Launched on March 29, this pilot program is meant to address this percentage by giving the resources needed for children to have a healthy nutrition.

A similar pilot program has already been launched at the nearby Madison STEM Academy in South Bend. At that school, Cultivate helped provide 100 children with weekend meals. The goal for the Elkhart school system is to spread this food program to the remaining 21 schools in the district.

Danielle Moskowitz

Dani Moskowitz is a contributor to The Renewal Project.