A Bellevue school has saved 4,000 pounds of food – enough that a nearby food bank no longer has to ration milk for its families.
At Puesta del Sol Elementary School, the first group of students to eat lunch are the kindergartners. Today’s menu: nachos with a side of carrots, oranges and bananas.
Kids don’t always finish everything on their tray, often they leave the fruit or milk. There’s a designated fridge in the corner of the cafeteria for uneaten food. Before the baskets of food go in, the school’s Green Team sorts them out. Third graders Rachel Park, Sonali Coelho, Judith Prado and Brooke Lell are part of the group that helps oversee the school’s recycling program.
“We always take the baskets of food that hasn’t been used, and we organize them,” said Brooke.
And that includes quality control. Food items that have been opened and put in the basket? “We have to just throw it away,” said Judith.
By the end of the week, a parent will deliver the collected food to HopeLink, a local food bank.
Puesta del Sol Elementary started its food share program four years ago. One of the teachers noticed a lot of uneaten food was going to waste. Could the Green Team collect it and share with those in need?
It sounded simple enough. But there were some hurdles, said Principal Jonathan Shearer. “There’s some liability worries around that, so we wanted to make sure that we did it in a safe and appropriate way as we presented the idea back to the district,” he said.
Then there were practical considerations, like where to store the collection before it’s transported to HopeLink. The school got a separate fridge for that.
“It’s actually donated by my parents,” said Shearer. “We brought it over from their garage and it’s been there ever since.”
It helped that one of the parents at the school works for the Environmental Protection Agency and has seen what some schools on the East Coast have done. That parent, Viccy Salazar, then approached the school district and the state to make sure the idea was well within the law.
Together, they developed the logistics for safely collecting, storing and delivering the food. In April 2014, the program launched.
“The kids were very excited about the program,” recalled Salazar, “the first week they donated about 145 pounds of food.”
HopeLink was excited too. The donations allow them to stop rationing dairy, giving families unlimited access on most days. The single serving items are convenient for their homeless clients.
The food share program has since expanded to three other elementary schools in the Bellevue School District: Lake Hills, Woodridge and Spiritridge.
“As a country, we throw away about 73 billion pounds of food a year,” said Salazar. “To put that into context, that’s enough to kind of fill and overflow Husky Stadium every single day with that wasted food.”
Salazar put together a tool kit for other schools who want to create a similar program.
At Puesta del Sol, the program has not only educated students, it’s brought a closer connection to their community.
“A child came to me and said, 'Where’s the food going?'” said Salazar. “I said it’s going to HopeLink and their answer to me was, 'That’s great; we shop there.'”