According to No Kid Hungry, a national campaign devoted to solving problems of hunger, roughly 12 million children in the United States live in “food insecure homes”— a term which means they regularly do not have enough to eat.
While the government helps with federal plans, such as SNAP, WIC, and the national school lunch program, it’s often not enough to fill the gap. For example, kids who rely on these school programs often go hungry throughout the summer and weekends.
The most tragic part of this whole situation is that it’s not due to a lack of food. In fact, the USDA estimates that roughly 30-40% of the United States food supply goes to waste, a phenomenon which they say has “far-reaching impacts on food security, resource conservation, and climate change.”
Recently, an Indiana school district noticed how much food was going to waste in their cafeterias.
In response, they launched an innovative pilot program that’s being praised by people worldwide.
In Elkhart County, Indiana, nearly 13% of children aged 5 to 17 live in poverty. Those attending Elkhart Community Schools receive breakfast and lunch while there. However, on the weekends, they may be without food.
In an interview with the Washington Post, a mother in the district explained how her family had recently fallen on hard times. “It’s been a struggle as a mom,” she said. “There’s times where it’s been just peanut butter and jelly.”
Melissa Ramey, of Chamber Leadership Academy, who helped put the program in place, would often hear these types of tales from students. “It was heartbreaking to hear that children go home on weekends and that they don’t have anything to eat,” she explained. Realizing the dilemma of its students, the Elkhart school district contacted the non-profit organization Cultivate.
“At Elkhart Community Schools, we were wasting a lot of food,” said Natalie Bickel of students services. “There wasn’t anything to do with the food. So they came to the school three times a week and rescued the food.”
Jim Conklin, founder of Cultivate, explained: “Mostly, we rescue food that’s been made but never served by catering companies, large food businesses, like the school system.”
“Over-preparing is just part of what happens. We take well-prepared food, combine it with other food and make individual frozen meals out of it.”
Members of Cultivate gather leftover food from the schools three times a week.
They then compile the items into meals that include a protein, veggie, and starch. The meals are then packed in recyclable containers and frozen to maintain freshness. When complete, they are passed over to school officials who distribute them to the children in the program.
According to reports, when the pilot was announced, cafeteria workers stood up and clapped. “It’s something they deal with every day,” said Bickel. “They see the need, they see hungry kids, and to throw [extra food] away was really difficult for them.”
For the pilot project, every Friday, twenty students will be receiving a custom cooler-backpack with eight pre-made meals to eat over the weekend.
So far, Ramey says:
“It’s making a big impact.”
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