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Home | Tag Archives: texas school lunch

Tag Archives: texas school lunch

Texas Public School Districts May Now Store, not Trash, Leftover Food

In more than 40 years of working in El Paso ISD’s cafeterias, Olimpia Estrada has seen the amount of wasted food drop dramatically as officials have established programs allowing the redistribution of leftover food. But they still have a long way to go.

“Anything to cut down on the waste and not feed the trash can, I think would be good,” Estrada said.

Estrada and cafeteria managers across the state now have an increased ability to get that leftover food into the hands of students. A law passed this spring creates a new pathway for school districts that want to reduce food waste and feed hungry kids throughout the week.

Senate Bill 725 — authored by state Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, became effective immediately after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the legislation in June. It allows schools to create food pantries on campus where they can store donated food as well as surplus food from the cafeteria.

Since 2011, federal law has allowed school districts to donate leftover food to nonprofits free of liability as long as they follow health and safety codes. Of the limited number of school districts taking advantage of the law, many end up donating to food banks or homeless shelters.

“That doesn’t solve our problem because most nonprofits collect that food and take it elsewhere,” said Rep. Diego Bernal, who authored and carried the bill in the House. “It doesn’t help those hungry kids.”

The San Antonio Democrat toured his district asking teachers and administrators about their biggest concerns for their students. “They were all frustrated with the volume and quality of the food that was thrown away regularly in their cafeteria. They were frustrated by their inability to give the food to those students” who didn’t have food at home, he said.

SB 725 creates a loophole that allows schools to keep their leftover packaged food and produce for distribution on campus — by letting them donate the food to themselves. A school can name one of its employees as the designee of a third-party nonprofit, allowing the school to donate and then collect the leftover food.

Another part of the bill lets school districts use their campuses to distribute that food.

“If they just want to test it out and do bottled water and unopened peel-top cereal and wrapped granola bars, cool,” Bernal said. “If they want to spend money and add refrigerators, that’s also great. We don’t dictate how they should do it.” Most of the food stored will be unopened, pre-packaged beverages or nonperishable items and whole fruit and vegetables — not warm meals, in order to follow state and local health codes, he said.

While SB 725 provides districts with a good option, those districts might not take advantage of it in large numbers, warned national food waste expert John Williamson, who is the founder of Food Rescue, a group advocating against throwing away food.

“It’s just that in my experience working with districts, the average district doesn’t want to take on that liability and that amount of work,” Williamson said. He argued local health departments can often stifle school districts with restrictive safety codes instead of following more lax federal guidelines.

At least one school district is already working to get its employees on board with SB 725. San Antonio ISD administrators have already found 13 teachers and counselors willing to serve as liaisons to start food pantries in their schools. With 25 percent of students in the county at risk of going hungry, officials are eagerly seeking solutions that might get more food into their hands, said Jenny Arredondo, the district’s child nutrition services executive director.

This month, Arredondo will distribute a start-up packet with information about what items could be donated to or stored in a pantry due to food safety regulations. “We’re assisting campuses with designating a spot on the campus that we are claiming is safe. When you store food, it’s not like storing books or boxes,” she said.

Many schools have already piloted other programs to keep uneaten food in the hands of students. Though federal law is permissive, Texas school districts are subject to more constricted local health laws that determine what they can do with the unopened milk cartons and unpeeled oranges that end up filling the trash cans after each meal.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a memo in 2016 encouraging the use of share tables, which let students leave food they don’t want on a table where other students can pick it up.

Estrada said she was the first cafeteria manager in El Paso ISD to try it out last spring, after officials cleared it with the local health department. Most of the food waste comes not from the kitchen, but from students who don’t finish the meals they take.

Last year, the district’s new policy allowed students who no longer had money on their meal cards and who had exhausted their credit to pick from the unopened, packaged items on the share table.

“Instead of them getting a cheese sandwich, we tell them, ‘Come on, let’s see what’s there for you to take,'” Estrada said.

SB 725 also requires school districts to make arrangements to pay off the meal debt of students who need a payment grace period, and it prevents them from shaming those students by publicly identifying them.

Bernal is working with the state to develop a resource page for other interested school officials. “We want to give them the confidence that they are on solid ground and that they are doing things that are legal,” he said. “It’s going to take some time for them.”

Read related Tribune coverage:

  • After peaking in 2013, the number of students who received free summer meals at Texas schools has dropped. No one seems to know exactly why, but one possible reason is lack of transportation. [Full story]
  • In East Texas, 86-year-old Clara Crawford shuttles kids to a summer meal program at the local community center. In the Panhandle, Kay Calvert and a group of volunteers want to revive a similar program in tiny Quitaque. [Full story]
  • The Texas Tribune wants to hear from families who were displaced by Hurricane Harvey and are trying to get their children back in school. Take our survey and tell us what’s factoring into your decision on where to enroll your kids. [Full story]
Now on the Books


Author: ALIYYA SWABY – The Texas Tribune

Proposal Bars Texas Schools from ‘Lunch Shaming’ Students

AUSTIN – Texas is joining New Mexico, California and other states in trying to prevent “lunch shaming” of children who can’t pay for their food in a school cafeteria. Often, when a student’s lunch account runs out of money, they’re pulled out of line and given a cold sandwich or another substitute instead of a hot meal.

A bill in the Texas Legislature would require schools to take a series of steps to avoid denying any student a regular meal.

Celia Cole, CEO of the food-bank network, Feeding Texas, says singling a student out in front of classmates is embarrassing and unnecessary.

“Children should never be shamed or punished because of their family’s economic circumstances and certainly, they should never be deprived of the food that they need to stay nourished and healthy, and able to learn,” she said.

The measure, House Bill 2159, is sponsored by Dallas Rep. Helen Giddings. It would require schools to work with parents to bring lunch accounts current and to provide the child regular meals until the issue is resolved. Similar measures have been passed in several other states.

Cole says the bill also encourages school officials to seek donations or other resources in the community to help pay outstanding school lunch accounts.

“What Rep. Giddings’ bill is trying to do is set some standards before cutting a child off, for attempting to contact parents in a way that doesn’t stigmatize the child, for figuring out whether there have been changes that might make the child qualify for free school lunch,” she explained.

She says the state doesn’t keep records of how many schools have large deficits in their lunchroom accounts, but she’s seen enough news reports to know the problem is widespread. Cole adds the state doesn’t fund school lunch programs.

“So, they’re really supposed to be self-sustaining with the funding that comes through the federal government,” Cole added. “They’re always needing to find ways to make sure they operate in the black. But certainly, if the state wanted to step in and help here, they could – and they don’t.”

The measure is awaiting a hearing in House Education Committee.

Author – Mark Richardson, Public News Service – TX
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