School district turns unused cafeteria food into take-home weekend meals for students in need

School district turns unused cafeteria food into take-home weekend meals for students in need
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An Indiana school district will be ensuring that there is zero wastage of food by partnering up with a local nonprofit organization to package unused food from the cafeteria into take-home meals for the students in need.

According to a statement by Elkhart Community Schools, the school district has partnered up with Cultivate, a nonprofit organization that "rescues food, packages meals, and serves meals to people who are food insecure."

The program will be first put in effect at the Woodland Elementary School, where school officials and staff have identified 20 students who will go home each Friday with meals for the weekend. They confirmed that the food for the Cultivate program will come from unused food at Elkhart Community Schools and that the entire process has been reviewed and approved by the Elkhart County Health Department and Indiana Department of Education. They also said the process meets all the strict criteria to ensure safe food handling for students.

WSBT reported that the program was introduced because there was an awareness that while students get breakfast and lunch at school, they may be without food during the weekends at home. Cultivate offered a solution.

Natalie Bickel, who works for the school district's student services department, said they noticed they were wasting a lot of cafeteria food. It's here that Cultivate comes into the picture. "There wasn't anything to do with the food," she explained. "So they [Cultivate] came to the school three times a week and rescued the food."

And while the nonprofit has been in place in St. Joseph County since 2017, the idea to bring the program to Elkhart came from a group of participants in the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce Leadership Academy, a nine-month program whose mission is to promote servant leadership through "an awareness program combining key community issues and enhanced leadership skill development to advance community stewardship."

Speaking to WSBT, Jim Conklin, Cultivate's president, said, "Mostly, we rescue food that’s been made but never served by catering companies, large food service businesses, like the school system. You don't always think of a school."

"Over-preparing is just part of what happens," Conklin said. "We take well-prepared food, combine it with other food and make individual frozen meals out if it."

On Friday, March 29, representatives from Woodland Elementary, Elkhart Community Schools, the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce Leadership Academy, and Cultivate Culinary, gathered at Woodland Elementary to celebrate the introduction of Cultivate to Elkhart County. And it has already been a big hit. 

Melissa Ramey, Chamber Leadership Academy, revealed that the program was making a big impact. "I am proud of that," she said. "It was heartbreaking to hear that children go home on the weekends and that they don't have anything to eat."

The school district announced that the next step would be to expand the program to other schools as well.

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