Random Acts of Sustainability
Photo Courtesy of SCARCE
February 17 is National Random Acts of Kindness Day. One way to participate is by supporting a school share table, which allows students to place unwanted, unopened food at a designated location in the lunchroom. The school can then distribute the leftover food to students, families, or local food pantries or organizations.
The amount of food that goes uneaten in school cafeterias is significant. School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education (SCARCE) conducts lunchtime waste audits with students at Chicagoland schools and often finds whole apples and unopened granola bars, entrees, yogurt cups and containers of fruit in the garbage. Biting into an apple is not easy for kindergarteners or first-graders with a dangling tooth.
Until recently, unwanted, unopened perfectly good food served in the cafeteria could not be taken home or given away, as contracts with food providers prohibited schools from distributing the items. To address the problem, SCARCE and the Illinois Environmental Council worked together in 2016 to write a law (HB 5530) permitting schools to donate leftover food served in their cafeterias. Now the food can go to hungry people instead of landfills.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have set a national goal to reduce food waste in America by 50 percent by 2030. To that end, the USDA is promoting food-sharing programs, noting that they are an “innovative strategy” to encourage kids to eat healthy foods and reduce waste in the food programs they fund. With state and federal barriers removed, schools absolutely can implement share table programs.
This month, we can all get involved by asking a local school to start a share table or by volunteering to monitor an existing share table, distributing food to kids in the free and reduced lunch program or taking leftover food to a local pantry or shelter. Let’s feed kids, not the landfill.
Kay McKeen is the executive director and Rose Naseef is an environmental educator at SCARCE, located at 799 Roosevelt Rd., Bldg. 2, Ste. 108, in Glen Ellyn, IL. For more information, call 630-545-9710 or visit Scarce.org.