Food Rescue Michigan State Director of Student Leadership
Hi everyone! My name is Danny, and here’s my story: I hope it can help those trying to start a program in their own school, whether they’re part way through the process (like me) or unsure where to start.
I’m sure I felt horrified when I learned how much food my school was throwing away, but more than that I felt surprised--why would they throw away perfectly good food when so many people are hungry? A friend had brought the issue to my attention after seeing the cafeteria staff throw away literally buckets full of food. “Couldn’t it go to some better use?” he wondered.
I asked around and discovered that the answer was, essentially, “no”; the way food was served at my school (“buffet style”, where students help themselves), it couldn’t be donated. So I gave up on trying to solve the problem for a while. Several months later, with the issue still nagging at my brain, I suddenly remembered the 31 other schools in my district who undoubtedly also threw out their leftovers. Sure enough, all of those schools’ food was completely able to be donated.
I decided I would spend a while researching the issue. Those of you reading this story have most likely heard of K-12 Food Rescue, an invaluable resource where much of the information you need to know about school food waste is consolidated in an easy-to-access way for you. Take advantage of it! You’ll want to be well-versed in school food donation policy and history when you start approaching people.
Shortly after doing my research, I took the advice of John Williamson (Executive Director of K-12 Food Rescue) and started a student group. I had been reluctant to do so, thinking “I can do this by myself”; let me say that anyone who could start a food rescue program by themselves could do it ten times more easily and effectively with a team to back them up. My team is called Ann Arbor Students for Saving Food (A2S2F) and I owe them full credit for all of our success so far.
It was then a simple matter of solidifying our goals and reaching out to the right people. I had learned from John that “tray-to-trash” waste (unopened, unpeeled, uneaten items from students’ trays) was a far better place to start than the “back-of-the-house” prepared food I had been focused on before, simply because it was a larger source of waste and much easier to work with than the back-of-the-house stuff. (That doesn’t mean back-of-the-house” waste shouldn’t be donated, though; it just wasn’t the best place for us to start. We plan to add back-of-the-house waste once our program gets going.) We knew also that elementary schools were the best place to start when combating tray-to-trash waste, simply because they waste much more food than middle or high schools. With those goals in mind we contacted the director of food service in our district and the food pantry we wanted to partner with and set up a meeting with them to talk about our idea.
The takeaway from that meeting? Let’s pilot this program at a single elementary school, work out the kinks, then expand to other schools if everything goes well.
And that’s as far as we’ve gotten. We’re in the process of that pilot right now. I promise I’ll continue to update this post as our program develops, but for now let me leave you with my biggest piece of advice to anyone starting a program:
Don’t give up. Be persistent. I can’t count on my fingers the number of times people have discarded our ideas flat-out or given us reasons why they won’t work--don’t assume that what they’re saying is true. No matter what happens, be guided by the fact that what you’re doing is right and that it will truly help people.
If you ever want to ask me anything, I’m more than happy to help. You can contact me through the Food Rescue website, and I would be glad to share what I have learned. Good luck!