School district works to feed students while reducing waste
In school districts across the nation, food has been going in the trash instead of on the plates of hungry students.
One local school district is working to solve that problem.
"There would be piles of milk or other items that we would see go directly to the trash unopened," says Israel Garcia.
The Temple ISD Assistant Director of Nutrition watched for years as tons of barely-touched food would get tossed in the garbage.
Garcia Elementary Cafeteria Manager Suntu Mocumba Aldridge witnessed the same.
"It was ridiculous to throw away all that good food and kids would still be hungry," she says.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, improving nutrition is one of the main goals of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act which was passed in 2010.
It requires students who are on the national free or reduced lunch program to accept certain items from their school’s cafeteria.
However, kids can be picky eaters, so many items would simply go into the trash- unopened but not unwanted.
"We would have kids constantly come to get another milk or fruit, and we would have to say, 'we can give you one, but you have to pay," says Garcia.
He's even seen cafeteria workers dig in their own pockets to pay for extra food while unopened containers sat in the trash.
In June, Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill into Texas law that allows schools to donate unwanted food items to other hungry students.
"This is a low-income area, so they don't eat much, but it helps them to get more portions," says Aldridge.
In Temple ISD, nearly 74 percent of students are on free and reduced lunch, and the district dishes out around 9,500 meals a day.
The administration has been working all school year to find ways to implement the new law.
“This share table allows for those students that maybe are full to put back into it," says Garcia as he shows off a small table posted near the lunch line exit.
On it hangs a sign that reads, "Have an item, take an item, thank you for sharing with your friends!"
"That allows other children to come take an extra milk or an extra pre-packaged serving of fruit,” says Garcia.
Ice cubes shift as kids drop items into the bin that is placed on the share table.
The ice allows the school to maintain cold items at the proper temperature, but nothing stays for long before it's claimed by another student.
It’s one way 4th graders like Ashley and Sanarra are learning to help one another.
"Kids that are more hungry can get more food," says Ashley who has added to the table.
"I asked for milk at my table, and there wasn't a lot of milk, so I came over here and got some," adds Sanarra.
"I'm just glad that the share table's there."
The tables are up and running at all Temple elementary schools. The district also plans to expand the program into middle and high schools.
"It's peace of mind that parents can know there will always be something available for their children here at school," says Garcia.
The Garcia Elementary cafeteria staff is already noticing a huge decrease in food waste and a generous increase in happy bellies.
"Food is like love- it gives them energy to do what they have to do throughout the day," says Aldridge.
The state law also allows for schools to set up food pantries where students can collect unwanted food to take home.
Temple ISD administration says campuses that opt-in may have pantries up and running by next school year.