- By Gabriella Cruz firstname.lastname@example.org
- Mar 31, 2016
Carina Schusterman was having strange nightmares.
These horrible dreams were about uneaten bananas, unopened bottles of water and untouched string cheeses - all getting thrown into Dumpsters. So rather than roll over and go back to sleep, she decided to do something about what she saw as a huge problem with wasted food. Schusterman's three sons are all students at Sanborn Elementary School, where she volunteers in the cafeteria during lunch time.
"I kept seeing so much prepackaged food being wasted and wondered why they couldn't donate or redistribute the unopened packages or uneaten fruits," Schusterman said. "It got to the point where I couldn't volunteer anymore because I was literally having nightmares. It was killing me."
Sanborn is the smallest school in Andover, and one of the only schools that allow parents to volunteer during school hours. After months of volunteering and seeing perfectly good food go to waste, Schusterman said, she had no choice but to act.
Over the course of the last three years, Schusterman has worked tirelessly to inform administrators, town officials and other parents about the opportunity to donate the uneaten food to local families. For six months, Schusterman sent emails, scheduled meetings and spread the word with hopes of implementing a food rescue and donation program in Andover schools.
"After a three year-long crusade to establish the food rescue program, we finally started at the end of last year," Schusterman said. "We collect four to five large plastic bins of food every week and are able to donate them to local families in need of a little extra help."
In 2011, the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was passed, allowing school cafeterias to donate uneaten food rather than throw it away. Not many people are aware of this law, Schusterman said, so getting the schools and town on board with her plan wasn't easy.
"It was about six months of asking everyone to get involved, and took a year to get former superintendent (Marinel) McGrath on board," Schusterman said. "It took three years to get all of the permits, approvals, guidelines in place and get enough parents involved to make the Zero Waste program a reality."
Schusterman said that after more than a year of trying to get approval to carry out the food rescue program, she was about to give up. That's when she met another Sanborn mother, Claire Stocker, who also couldn't stand seeing food go to waste. "I met Claire and she felt the same need to do something," Schusterman said. "There are people, children, in Syria, Africa -- all over the world who have nothing, and here we are in Andover letting so much food go to waste." With approval and support from the town, the Board of Health and Sanborn administration, Schusterman's Zero Waste program was started at Sandborn in December 2015. Each week, nearly 40 parents volunteer at Sanborn during lunch time to collect the uneaten food.
Schusterman works full-time and her three sons are involved in various extra curricular activities. She's only allotted a 30-minute lunch break each day, so in order to spend an hour at Sanborn every day, she uses vacation time to make up for the extra 30 minutes. Along with other volunteers, she also hand-delivers the bins of food to local families each week.
"We literally just knock on the door and hand them the food," Schusterman said of the distribution process. "These are local people who are struggling to keep their families fed. They are so, so grateful."
During lunch, the parents stand behind a row of bins: two for trash, one for liquids, one for recycling and one for donations. When students are finished with their lunch and go to empty their trays in the trash, the parents make sure that unopened foods are put in the donation bin and also try to educate kids about waste. One item that students throw away most frequently is string cheese. Schusterman noticed how many individually wrapped cheese sticks she was collecting and after asking her own son why he took the snack if he didn't want to eat it, she came to a realization.
"I asked my son why he always chose a string cheese over other snacks they offer," Schusterman said. "He said because he and his friends like to play pretend-swords with them during lunch. When kids don't know how important food is for people in poverty, how can you expect them to make different choices?"
Schusterman said that 10 percent of Andover students don't have enough food on their plates at home. She also said that 40 percent of the waste throughout the district is food. When the Zero Waste program started to include educating students about what it means to waste food, she said they were immediately willing and able to help. "When they come up with yogurt that they haven't touched or cheese sticks still in the wrappers, whatever it is, we tell them that we're giving what they don't use to people who are hungry," Schusterman said. "And they get it. They come up now and say things like, 'I hope this makes someone else not so hungry.'"
Living in 'a bubble'
Of the parent volunteers at Sanborn, Schusterman said almost all are from different countries. Schusterman, originally from Argentina, said other countries are more aware of food waste. International parents, Schusterman said, have either grown up with an idea that wasting food is unacceptable, or have seen or experienced poverty firsthand.
"Andover is kind of like a bubble," Schusterman said. "We're right next to Lawrence, where so many people are struggling to put food on the table. Sometimes people get so used to their bubble that they don't think about the other bubbles around them. We need to educate our younger generations and show them how making a difference is easy."
With the success at Sanborn, Schusterman now hopes each school in Andover will adopt a food rescue program. She encourages parents from any local schools to contact their PTOs and school principals to ask if the Zero Waste program can be implemented. With the help of the community, Schusterman believes Andover schools can begin to change the entire town.
Just two weeks ago, the Zero Waste program began at the St. Augustine School to rescue unopened and uneaten packaged foods during lunch. Schusterman said she "couldn't be happier" that more students will learn the value of donating food and the habits associated with avoiding waste.
"I don't want my kids to see that wasting food is normal or acceptable," Schusterman said. "But this is a community effort and it truly needs every parent who can lend a hand. If one Andover school can donate this much food, imagine how much food is being thrown away, every day, nationwide. We don't have the right to waste food."