“I can’t believe they were opening milk cartons and pouring the milk down the sink!”, said Heather, a local Long Beach parent. At the time her daughter was attending elementary school in Long Beach where that was the standard practice at the end of the lunch period. Certainly the milk hadn’t spoiled by the end of the day? But without a program in place to rescue and redistribute the milk and other perishable items, it was the option the cafeteria staff resorted to, disheartening as it was.
It took a little involvement from the school Green Team and Heather, a concerned parent and advocate against food waste, who convinced the school principal that there was a better option– not only for the milk, but other food items that were still edible or servable. That option was Food Finders.
Food Finders has spent 27 years linking donated food from grocers, restaurants, caterers, produce marts, hotels and schools directly to shelters, pantries and centers to provide their constituents. Most of this food is perishable, so donations are coordinated daily to coincide with scheduled meals or distribution programs. “All the food we receive is delivered via staff drivers or volunteers direct from the donor right to the door of the pantry of shelter, so it stays fresh. We don’t warehouse that food, which is why we’re more of a food recovery organization than food bank,” said Diana Lara, VP of Operations. Food Finders coordinates the more than 250 weekly food routes that are managed from their headquarters, including school donations.
The milk incident came to attention about 7 years ago and gradually more schools came on board with the program. Fast forward to today, when there are currently 16 Long Beach schools donating their cafeteria food overages each week and 64 during semester breaks. Whether it’s bags of carrots, yogurt, salads, milk or other items, the food no longer ends up in the trash, but provides a healthy option at nonprofits that offer snacks or meals. In addition to the Long Beach schools, which includes elementary, middle and high schools, Food Finders works with 36 other schools in cities like Anaheim, Fullerton, Newport Beach and several South Bay schools. Donation amounts average 800 pounds per school site each month.
In addition to the schools, major distributor Gold Star Foods made the conscious decision to donate several years ago. They are the largest school food and produce distributor in the United States, serving districts throughout the Southwest. In any given month, they average from 1,000-5,000 pounds of food that gets donated from their Ontario warehouse to nearby food pantries where food assistance is provided throughout the week. “We are so proud to partner with Food Finders. Hunger is an issue in every community. Through our partnership, we’re able to ensure that healthy, nutritious food is not wasted rather finds its way to those in need. This partnership further serves to close the loop of eliminating waste and hunger,” Sean Leer, CEO of Gold Star commented.
School cafeterias generally have a set amount of food delivered per day to serve, whether students eat at the cafeteria or not, so just like restaurants, they often have overages.
A school food recovery program is also a great way to teach children about reducing waste. In some cases, the students are the ones responsible for implementing the program, from capturing the food during lunch period to ensuring it gets properly contained and delivered. This “Green” movement at schools is part of the extracurricular activity that encourages waste-conscious living at home and beyond. In some cases, students might spearhead a program at the elementary level, then be instrumental in their future middle and high schools.
So, getting back to the elementary school that stopped throwing their milk down the drain…they donated more than 10,000 pounds of food in just 6 months, and all because one parent took time to notice a disparity.
It’s time for food recovery to be a commonplace effort! Tell your friends and encourage your kids, your school administration and your council people to get behind this program.