The uneaten bananas and unopened milk cartons were already piling up at the end of the first lunch at Normandale Elementary. Last week they would have been piling up in the trash, but this week they are being “rescued.”
Food Rescue is designed to redirect unopened, unpeeled and uneaten food from school lunches to people who need it. Alex Turnbull, registered dietician with Chartwells, the district’s food service partner, is introducing the nationwide program to all EPS schools. The collected lunch items are donated to Loaves and Fishes, a nonprofit program serving hot meals to persons in need throughout seven counties in the Twin Cities and in two outstate communities.
She introduced Food Rescue at Concord Elementary in October and spent two months fine-tuning the program and the message. “We encourage students to eat their lunch,” she said. “We don’t want them to donate food items that they want to eat!”
In December, Creek Valley joined the Food Rescue effort, and Cornelia began the program in January. Turnbull’s focus for February is to bring Normandale on board before she moves on to the other schools in coming months.
Turnbull positions herself, her collection crate and sign at the beginning of the lunch room recycling station so she can spy items that could be recycled before they are tossed into another bin. Many kids already understand the program, adding a piece of fruit or packaged crackers to the crate. But many are still learning what it’s all about.
One student wanted to donate a bag of grapes from her lunchbox. “We can’t take items from home,” Turnbull tells her. “Save it and have it for a snack later.” A boy comes with four bananas, having bought extras so he could donate them. “But it’s for a good cause!” he exclaimed, after Turnbull explained that he should not buy extra food to donate but should just bring leftovers he doesn’t want to eat. “I can help you think of ideas where you can donate food, if you like,” she said.
Turnbull said the hope is not only to use the program to serve community need, but also as an educational opportunity to help students learn how reducing food waste can help the environment.
Three food facts that Turnbull shares:
Before each school’s rescued food is sent to the high school collection point, the school’s nursing staff chooses items they need for their office. Once a week, volunteers from Loaves and Fishes stops at EHS to pick up the district’s donation. Since the program began, Turnbull reports that a total of 6,577 items (mostly apples and cartons of milk) have been donated. That translates into 822 pounds less methane gas released into the environment by keeping the food out of landfills.
Turnbull said that watching the items that are put into the rescue crate also gives her ideas about ways to tweak the lunch menu to appeal to her young customers, who are her first priority. “I think kids would eat more apples if they were served in slices,” she said. “I am looking into how we can serve slices instead.”