Vincent Phan, A Kerr HS junior near Houston Texas, recently contacted Food Rescue about convincing his school district in Alief to adopt K-12 Food Rescue policies, where there are over 40 schools. Vincent wrote:
I'm a junior at Kerr High School, and we are interested in starting a Food Rescue program, but we have no idea where to start.... I'm interested and believe in this program's capability, but I'm not sure how to get around the restrictions that may occur. Any help would be greatly appreciated.
The following is a guest blog post from Vincent, where he is going to document his journey from no schools participating in his district, to eventually all of them following his lead.
My name is Vincent Phan, and I just completed my junior year at Kerr HS in the Alief Independent School District in Texas. The whole idea of a food waste audit seemed practical on paper, but a tad bit more difficult in practice. School was ending in two weeks, so the plan had to take flight and fast. Initially, I prepared a post on FaceBook detailing the food audit as a personal project and asked for student participation. Then came Monday, the day of the debut. People were still in the habit of throwing away their packaged foods that they didn’t intend to eat. I guess the Facebook post wasn’t that successful after all, so I had to use a make-shift microphone (my hands) and shout to raise awareness of the project. Occasionally I would even make trips to tables to personally tell them about my project so they would participate for the rest of the week. It was unconventional, but it worked little by little as cartons of juices and milk started piling up in a previously empty box. By the time the bell rang, I made my way back to my advisory area to count the number of rescued items. Forty nine items ranging from cinnamon Pop Tarts to apple sauce were lined on the table. So what happened with these forty nine breakfast items? I didn’t have the heart to throw all of it away, so a majority of the items ended up in the teacher’s lounge. My AP Environmental Science teacher supported the project, but was also curious. She asked whether the results were affected because people felt obligated to give way their food. Hopefully that wasn’t the case because I explicitly mentioned, “Only give me if you don’t plan on eating it, if you want it, just eat it.” Because if that were the case, ironically this wouldn’t be a Food Rescue, it would be students sacrificing food items, which is not the purpose of Food Rescue . Over the week, the numbers began to increase because people were taking notice of the project and thus understood how to particpate. This project wouldn’t be possible without friends who helped me collect and also carry the boxes full of food. Because try as I might, forty milk cartons and other miscellaneous breakfast items can be exceptionally heavy. On Friday, the total accumulated items over the week reached over three hundred fifty, an astounding amount considering the fact that my school only has at most one thousand students. In addition to the fact that this project was only done during breakfast so only students that actually came to school early enough to get breakfast could participate. Considering the amount of food waste my school produces, what can be said about the whole district? So let's do the math, and please keep in mind this is for breakfast alone. Not even including lunch!!!!!
According to the Impact Dashboard from Food Rescue seen below, we averaged 74 items per day in 1 week at Kerr HS. Food Rescue tells me that HS students waste far, far less than HS students, so the numbers I am going to share are very conservative. Our waste in Alief Independent School District is much higher than what I am about to share.
With 46 schools in our district, and 180 days in a school year, and a minimum of 73 items per day wasted per school in our district at breakfast, ALIEF School District unnecessarily wastes 73 x 180 x 46 = 604,440 unopened and unpeeled breakfast items alone each year in our district are fed to landfills each year instead of families, harming the environment instead of feeding people. With what we know about elementary schools wasting more food, that figure is probably closer to 800,000 to 900,000 items. Now let's add lunch, and the total is closer to 1.5 million items or more. So the questions is why? In chapter five of the School Food Waste Policy History link at FoodRescue.net, it clearly shows the USDA does not want unopened food thrown into landfills, and they provide a blueprint for donating rather than dumping nutritious food, along with guidelines from 14 other states. Neighboring Houston Independent School District developed 3 pilot schools, and the school board gave overwhelming praise and support for the student who initiative the program. That presentation came at the request of Superintendent Richard Carranza, who also requested the same student speak to 300 Houston principals, where they all raised their hands to the question of, "who wants to start a Food Rescue program in your school today?" The school board presentation can be seen below, as well as pictures and the Impact Dashboard from my 1 week breakfast food waste audit at Kerr HS. It is my genuine hope that Alief ISD will join the school food rescue movement, and that I could address the school board of AISD to plead the case for feeding families and not landfills.
As how how I found Food Rescue? Well, like many other people I was mindlessly surfing videos on YouTube where I found an interesting video regarding “Feeding the 5,000,” in which perfectly untouched food that is about to be thrown away can essentially feed 5,000 people. I was looking for similar events that do this in my hometown, Houston. There were none and if so I probably didn’t look hard enough. However, I did find the Food Rescue program. And I just called John, the director behind the whole operation which a thirty-minute phone conference in one of my teacher's class, to which my teacher laughingly said: "If you're going to that, tell me ahead of time." I’m still working out the kinks that might come ahead, but I’m hoping with the help of Food Rescue, there can be some sort of initiative taken in my school district using the results of my food wood waste audit at Kerr HS as evidence of a problem that needs to be solved, and that our school district can actually play a leadership role in the solution.
So that headline is exaggerating for effect, right? Perhaps that's what you are thinking, but the data and math at the end tells the story. A 10 year old in Houston is attempting to secure hundreds of thousands of meals for city wide food pantries through his K-12 Food Rescue efforts.
On February 8th, Food Rescue received an inquiry from the president of Make a Difference Entrepreneurs (M.A.D.E.) in Houston, and one of their founders, 10 year old, Yash Semlani. In just 30 short days, the following is a list of Yash and M.A.D.E.’s impact on the Houston Independent School District (HISD) using the resources provided from Food Rescue, including one on one mentoring sessions that accompany access to our “Get Started” toolkit.
1) M.A.D.E. and Yash contacted his school principal, area cafeteria manager and district food service director for HISD, and asked for permission to launch a getMADEkids Food Rescue Program, which included a food waste audit. All approved items were donated after the audit. Through M.A.D.E., getMadekids use entrepreneurial skills to impact the world.
2) M.A.D.E. and Yash published Food Rescue’s impact dashboard using the Food Rescue Online Tracking, and the chart is posted in the school cafeteria for children to see the impact.
3) M.A.D.E. and Yash contacted a state Representative who is working on school food waste issues in the state legislature and arranged meetings with the Speaker of the House, Lt. Governor, and Governor.
4) M.A.D.E. and Yash connected with 2 other schools to get their pilot getMADEkids Food Rescue programs up and running and invited the district trustee to see the program in operation.
5) M.A.D.E. and Yash asked a local TV station do a story on the work he is doing to raise awareness.
6) M.A.D.E. and Yash connected with a state student government organization to present the getMADEkids Food Rescue program to a statewide student government group as a potential service project for student government groups to take on.
Making students the face of Food Rescue and providing them resources to learn about the environmental and social impact of food waste has unleashed a powerful voice in favor of hunger relief and environmental stewardship, and against landfill feeding.
If you know any students who would be interested in joining the #foodisnottrash movement, we continue to seek young faces to change the world. Don't hesitate to reach out and empower a son, daughter, niece, nephew, student in your area.
And if you are interested in the "math" I referred to above, check out the statistics below.
There are 283 schools in the Houston Independent School District. Our data shows schools waste 60 unopened and unpeeled items each day from the trays of students that feed landfills not families. (We know it's as high as 500 per day, but we prefer to remain conservative.) 60 (items per day x 283 (schools) x 180 (school days) = 3,056,400 food items fed to landfills annually from the trays of students each year. 3,056,400 divided 4 food items (equivalent of 1 pound) = 764,100 pounds of food. Divided by 1.2 pounds (1 adult meal according to Feeding America) = 635,750 meals