York County schools limit lunch food waste, bring milk, fruit to families in need

‘Near and dear’: unwanted food goes to York families in need

Unwanted milk and fruits aren’t going into the trash at several York County schools. Instead, the items are going to hungry students and families. York’s Stop Food Waste program was launched in 2017.
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Unwanted milk and fruits aren’t going into the trash at several York County schools. Instead, the items are going to hungry students and families. York’s Stop Food Waste program was launched in 2017.

Unwanted milk and fruits aren’t going into the trash at several York County schools. Instead, the items are going to hungry students and families.

At York schools, a refrigerated cooler and bin in the cafeteria await items donated by students who did not want them with their meals, said Latisha Holt, food service director for the district. York’s Stop Food Waste program was launched in 2017.

York children donate items during breakfast and lunch. Other students can take any of the items for themselves. Donated items left at the end of the day are picked up by Tender Hearts Ministries and given to families in the community, Holt said.

“This is near and dear to me,” Holt said. “We want to provide nutritious meals and we want to make sure that when students go home that they have meals. If there is any way we can help in our community, that’s what we want to do.”

Limiting waste from school lunch rooms is a goal of Chartwells Schools Dining Services, which serves York, Holt said.

York’s effort is similar to those in other York County schools and in other states.

Elkhart, Ind.-based Woodland Elementary School made headlines earlier this month for its program that packages left-over food from the school’s cafeteria into take-home meals for students in need, reports the Associated Press. The school partnered with the nonprofit Cultivate to fill backpacks with eight frozen meals for at-risk children.

In 2018, York schools donated about 15,000 pounds of food to Tender Hearts through share tables, said Nicole Martin, spokesperson for Chartwells. The district donated 4,000 pounds in 2017. Since January, the district has already donated more than 5,000 pounds.

Tender Hearts, founded by Ainslee Moss, runs a homeless shelter in York, which houses up to 14 women and children at a time, said Natasha Ramsey, outreach program manager. The ministry also offers a transitional housing program and has thrift stores in York, Rock Hill and Clover.

Ramsey said Holt connected Tender Hearts with the schools using share tables. Donated items go to Tender Hearts, Family Promise of York County in Rock Hill, the Pilgrims’ Inn shelter in Rock Hill and the Clover Area Assistance Center.

Ramsey said many of the items help local senior citizens and children.

“We loved the idea,” Ramsey said. “There are so many people in our community who do not receive any kind of government assistance.”

Tender Hearts has served 200 families this year, Ramsey said.

“We don’t know what kids are eating outside of the school. Some of them don’t have food at home they can eat,” she said. “This is something their parents can come and get extra food if they need it.”

Students have embraced the program, Holt said. When the share tables were implemented, she said many children would buy items just to donate.

“The kids, they want to help the community,” Holt said. “They know it goes for a good cause.”

Feeding the hungry

York schools also partner with Chartwells every April to host a canned food drive, Holt said.

In 2018, the district and Chartwells donated more than 500 pounds of canned goods to Tender Hearts, allowing the ministry to feed community members through the summer, Martin said.

Chartwells also serves Clover schools, which started a similar share table program at three elementary schools this year, said Miranda Prisland, assistant director of child nutrition for Chartwells. Prisland works with York and Clover schools.

Items donated by Clover students help their peers. What’s left goes to the Clover Area Assistance Center, Prisland said.

“It’s great for the district and the community,” she said. “So far, it’s worked wonderfully.”

The Fort Mill school district also has share tables at some schools, said Joe Burke, district spokesperson. Those items are available for students within the school. Burke said the district is working to expand the program to all Fort Mill schools.

Fort Mill’s Back the Pack program provides students in need with food items for the weekend, Burke said.

Rock Hill does not have share tables, but does provide meal items to at-risk students through its Back the Pack program, said Mychal Frost, district spokesperson.

The program, possible through the Rock Hill Schools Education Foundation and a partnership with Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina, sends students home with items such as canned chicken and microwaveable pasta dishes, Frost said.

In its 10th year, Rock Hill’s Back the Pack program expanded in January to serve high school students as well as those in elementary and middle school, said Amanda Haskin, executive director of the education foundation. The program feeds about 800 students a week.

“There’s nothing more distracted than a hungry child,” Haskin said.

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Amanda Harris covers issues related to children and families in York, Chester and Lancaster County for The Herald. Amanda works with local schools, parents and community members to address important topics such as school security, mental health and the opioid epidemic. She graduated from Winthrop University.
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