Friday, December 19, 2014

Food rescue: an inspiring movement in Indiana schools

A handful of months ago, a man named John Williamson reached out to me via email. He wanted to share a video with me about food rescue in schools. I was absolutely amazed. As John described the video, "Recently we piloted a [food rescue] program in an entire school system, in which every school participated in South Madison Schools. (Pendleton Heights) 5,500 milks, 5,500 juices, and 9,600 entrees were preserved in 2013-1014."

This is a compelling issue I've been dealing with in Indiana schools, mostly from the standpoint of students wanting to capture their food waste and use it in compost for their gardens. The reality that most students throw away their uneaten food to rot in landfills and create methane emissions is simply too much to bear.

Add to that the other reality — that of hunger and food insecurity — and it seems downright criminal to throw perfectly good food away. In fact, most students with whom I work consider food waste a social justice issue, not necessarily a climate change one.

Along comes John Williamson and the Food Rescue Network to put a major dent in the atrocity of food waste. In that initial email to me, John said: "40% of our food is wasted in America, and it emits methane gas from landfills that is many times more harmful to our environment than CO2. And of course 1 in 6 in America (1 in 20 in Hamilton County) are food insecure."

John and I have been trading a lot of emails since then, and the subject is such a big one it's taken me many weeks to get around to grappling with it.

Thickening the plot is a recent email John sent, detailing the federal law aspect of this. John said:

"In 2012, the United States government changed laws to encourage schools to donate their surplus food. The government even encourages schools to share their stories about how they reduce their food waste through food recovery on the USDA website, and it is encouraged on the EPA website as well. These new laws mirror the 1996 Good Samaritan laws, and the articles below verify these initiatives. There are simply no more legal barriers or governmental concerns or prohibitions. It is in fact the opposite, where it is now promoted."

I was finally able to arrange a trip to a school — West Clay Elementary in Carmel — to see this food rescue with my own eyes. Thanks to John and to a volunteer, Nikki, who invited me to West Clay Elementary, I saw first hand how much untouched food is being captured at one school — and how it's being rescued and taken to a nearby food pantry, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church's Merciful HELP Center. Below, are a few photos from that experience.

Before you eye them, though, note that over 60 Indiana schools are actively capturing their food to hand over to food banks and food panties. Hundreds more have been introduced to the concept. You can read all about it here, on the Food Rescue web site.

Let me emphasize, then, that this was one day at one school. Multiply that by 60, then think about 2000 Indiana schools, or more.

Before the capture begins.

Basically, the "take" for one lunch period of many that day. 
Kids also recycle at West Clay Elementary! 

As part of the five-day collection, there are a lot cheese sticks. Over 150!

Volunteer Nikki (left) works with Cafeteria Manager Beth Galloway from West Clay Elementary to get everything accounted for.

Loaded up into Nikki's car.

Getting the food weighed at the OLMC Merciful HELP Center.

Kind of hard to see, but that's over 140 pounds of food, rescued over five days' time, in one school. 

Want to get involved in a food rescue program at your school? Contact John Williamson, he'll show you the way.

John recently shared a testimonial from people at the Fishers UMC Food Pantry: 

I just wanted to share with all of you how well your donations went over this week! All of the families were so grateful for the milk, fresh fruit and yogurt. The snacks and others items went well too.

One mom stopped me to specifically say thank you for the chocolate milk. Her son is having trouble putting on weight and the doctor recommended chocolate milk as a good way to help. Unfortunately with tight finances she has been unable provide the chocolate milk for him. I wish you all could have seen the truly grateful look in her eyes as they held back tears. She was deeply grateful!

Thank you so much for the extra effort it takes collect and store these items! Your efforts are making a difference after just two weeks!