By Carrie Haderlie
The Sheridan Press Via Wyoming News Exchange 

Legislator proposes way to end school lunch waste


March 5, 2020

SHERIDAN — One state legislator from Gillette was a school principal for years, and was always astonished at the amount of food wasted every lunch period.

In the years since, schools across Wyoming have tried to reduce waste. Some do lunch time head counts, tallying exactly how many children will eat hot lunch so the kitchen can prepare a reasonable amount; some schools have instituted a “share table” where kids can drop off unwanted, unopened food and drink items to share or donate; and other schools practice “offer versus serve” as a way to minimize food waste by allowing students to decline food they will not eat, selecting something they will instead.

Sen. Jeff Wasserburger, R-Gillette, sponsored a bill this legislative session that would do even more: Allow for surplus school lunch food to be donated to children at the end of the day, or given to local soup kitchens or shelters, instead of going into the garbage.

“Each school has a school lunch program, and federal law has not allowed us to give that food out at the end of the day. We have to throw that food out,” Wasserburger said. “I served as a building principal for 14 years, and it always bothered me that we threw away good food at the end of lunches. What the bill does is allows us to is give that food out instead.”

The way he envisions it, Senate File 54 would allow for hot, prepared food to be packaged in the cafeteria and sent home with children or taken to a local soup kitchen. The bill passed on third reading in the Senate Tuesday, and moved to the House for consideration on Wednesday.

“All the bill does is gives every school district the choice to save whatever surplus food is leftover after lunch and give it out to students at the end of the day,” Wasserburger said. The bill would not require any district to participate, he added.

“If a school wanted to use its guidance counselor, you could take the food to their office and students who were food challenged at home, the guidance counselors could put food in their backpack at the end of the day, and no one would know,” Wasserburger said.

Additionally, the bill would allow for excess food to be taken to a local soup kitchen.

Tamra Jackson, nutrition programs state director with the Wyoming Department of Education, said that schools have been working to reduce waste for years.

“This is a wonderful idea, because obviously we all have the same goal of taking care of kids’ nutritional needs, especially when it comes to kids who are at risk,” Jackson said.

A district could choose to send food home with students in a way that would intersect with the National School Lunch Program administered by the WDE, she said, or could donate to a local nonprofit or community group.

“If they were donating to a program that was not one that we administer, then it would be up to the district to figure out how they would administer that program. Each community would be different, and would have different needs,” Jackson said.

Doug Goodwin with the Lunch Together Soup Kitchen said volunteers in his program cook on site, but do receive donations like leftovers from weddings and funerals on occasion.

“I would think food from a school would be a perfectly legitimate donation,” Goodwin said. “The Health Department in Wyoming has been very gracious and generous to us because they understand we follow [food preparation] laws in the state.”

For Lunch Together, any donation of prepared food could create a logistical struggle, though. Hot food would need to be transported safely and properly handled, but the logistics are “not something the law needs to worry about,” Goodwin said. “That would be for the partners involved to work out.”

Goodwin said his congregation often makes prayer requests for food for the poor, and that this leads to a question: What do you give to those in need?

“One problem we have with donations … not so much from the school system or this bill, is the question of, what do you give to the poor?” Goodwin said. “The poor need to be held with mutual respect and if it is not good enough for someone else, it is not good enough for the poor either.”

But properly handled, nutritionally sound food from the school, he said, could be a gift.

“I think it is a good idea, and it sounds like a workable idea,” Goodwin said.

Wasserburger said he read about similar programs in other states, and researched the proposed bill to ensure it aligned with federal law.

“It is a simple little bill, and it may or may not pass,” he said. “But if we can somehow get surplus food to those kids who are food challenged, that would be a great thing to do. If it is a good bill, and we don’t get to it [during the budget session], we will bring it back in a general session.”

Similarly, Jackson said that school lunch programs can be a target and that people complain about the food. But for children whose only hot meal comes at school, it can be the difference between going hungry and being able to learn.

“We all want the same thing. We all want to take care of kids, and figure out a way that will do it in a way that will help children who are hungry,” Jackson said. “Kids can’t learn if they are hungry.”


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