MERIDEN — Israel Putnam Elementary School is preparing to launch a program next month in an effort to cut down on food waste in school cafeterias.
The program will allow students to donate certain unused food items to a local food pantry.
Meriden will launch the food rescue program on a trial basis at Israel Putnam beginning March 12. If it goes well, the district would look to expand it into other schools next year, said Susan Maffe, director of food and nutrition services for Meriden schools.
Meriden was inspired to start the food rescue program by Wallingford schools, which started a rescue program last school year that has since rescued over 9,000 pounds of food.
Jennifer Janus, a volunteer who helped start the Wallingford program, said she has worked to spread the food rescue program into other towns since starting the initiative.
“I'm so happy that the (Meriden) administrators saw the value of this program, not just for the students but for their community and environment,” Janus said.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” said Joanne Grabinski, a friend of Janus who helped coordinate a meeting between Janus and Meriden school officials.
“It just goes to show that this program can be done anywhere,” Grabinski said. “Jen is looking to take this statewide, and I think that’s a great idea.”
The food from Israel Putnam will go to the food pantry at New Opportunities of Greater Meriden, 74 Cambridge St.
Meriden’s food rescue program will differ from Wallingford’s, Maffe said, because while Wallingford’s program allows students at some schools to take donated food from a “share table” if they’re hungry, Meriden’s program will donate all food to the food pantry.
Maffe said that all students at Israel Putnam are eligible for free breakfast and lunch, so there is less of a need for students to take food from a share table.
The state Department of Education determines which foods are allowed to be donated to the food pantry, Maffe said. Those items include unpeeled fruits, pre-packaged carrots, commercially pre-packaged applesauce, raisins and juice boxes.
Meriden is preparing to launch the pilot program at Israel Putnam by holding a nine-week educational series that teaches kids about the importance of healthy eating and not wasting food during their lunch period.
Maffe said the school will keep track of how much food is being wasted. The school recently completed its first section on milk, Maffe said, and the amount of milk wasted in the school’s cafeteria was reduced by 33 percent.
Once the program is running, Maffe said volunteers from Meriden Arc will help transport the food to the pantry.