Indiana school turns leftover food into meals for needy children
An Indiana elementary school is helping needy students in a big way by working with a local food-rescue nonprofit organization to turn leftover cafeteria food into take-home meals.
Woodland Elementary School in Elkhart County and South Bend-based Cultivate started a pilot program last month that transforms food that would normally become waste into frozen meals that children in need can take home for the weekend.
"There's a peace of mind to know there's something in the fridge," Angel Null, a mother of two children who attend Woodland, told The Washington Post.
Approximately 12.8 percent of Elkhart County's children between the ages of five and 17 live in poverty, the U.S. Census points out. And 64 percent of the 12,000-plus students in the school district qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, Natalie Bickel, supervisor of student services for Elkhart Community Schools, told CNN.
Currently, 20 students are enrolled in Woodland's program, which provides them with insulated backpacks that carry eight frozen dishes. The meals, which normally consist of starches, proteins and vegetables, are packaged in recyclable containers. Options can range from corn beef and mashed potatoes to chicken and cabbage.
"Mostly, we rescue food that's been made but never served by catering companies [and] large food service businesses like the school system," Cultivate co-founder Jim Conklin told WSBT.
RELATED: Discover ways to reduce food waste:
Founded in the fall of 2016, Conklin's organization already serves the Madison STEAM Academy, a school nearby where 100 students are enrolled in a similar program. The nonprofit's three staff members work with nearly 400 volunteers to convert leftover food at Cultivate's facilities and redistribute it as packaged meals. To date, it has received donations from local businesses, the University of Notre Dame's athletic department and the South Bend Cubs minor league baseball team.
Food waste has been a serious issue in the United States for some time. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that about 133 billion pounds of food from stores, restaurants and homes went to waste in 2010. In 2015, then-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack publicly pushed for the country to reduce its food waste by 50 percent by 2030.
Organizations in Indiana have since taken the lead. Food Rescue, for example, launched the Student Led Entrepreneurial Initiative, which encourages children to help keep track of unopened food and work with other agencies to repurpose it. Cultivate itself has also provided culinary job training and catering services to support local programs.
"It's been a long-term mission for myself," Cultivate's other founder and general manager, Randy Z, told CNN. "I was the kid who went home with no food and didn't eat on the weekends when I was younger."