MERIDEN — The school district is looking to expand a food rescue program piloted earlier this year to teach students the importance of reducing waste.
The program, started at Israel Putnam Elementary School in the spring, will be expanded to Benjamin Franklin and Hanover elementary schools this school year, said Susan Maffe, director of food and nutrition services for the school district.
The program includes a nine-week education program that teaches the importance of healthy eating and not wasting food during lunch period. Following the educational program, bins are set up in the cafeteria for kids to donate certain uneaten food items allowed by the state Department of Education. Donated food is taken to the local nonprofits.
“We’re really excited about it and we’re hoping to get more people to become interested,” Maffe said about expanding the program.
The district received an $8,000 grant from the Napier Foundation earlier this year for the expansion. Maffe said it will help pay for equipment and other supplies. Foundation administrator Daria Smith said the foundation was “thrilled” to provide the grant because food insecurity has been an issue the local nonprofit has sought to address.
“This is completely in keeping with our work, with our grant-making priorities. We were really happy to see the application come in,” she said.
Meriden’s food rescue program was inspired by a program started in Wallingford last year by lunch and recess aides Jennifer Janus and Lisa Teodosio. Meriden resident JoAnne Grabinski, a friend of Janus, helped bring the food rescue program to Meriden after hearing Janus talk about the success of Wallingford’s program, which has rescued 7.5 tons of food since February 2017.
The Meriden program seeks to teach students about the importance of not wasting food and food waste’s larger impact through the nine-week educational program.
Grabinski said the idea is to teach students at an early age so that when they get older being mindful of food waste is a habit.
After running the educational program at Israel Putnam this past spring, Maffe said the amount of milk thrown out in cafeterias was reduced by 33 percent.
The amount of vegetables and fruits wasted was also reduced by 10 and 5 percent respectively.
Only certain foods allowed by the state Department of Education can be donated, including fruits with inedible skins, packaged bagels and juice boxes.
“We’re pretty limited for what we can rescue,” Maffe said.
Maffe said the program will be restarted at Israel Putnam shortly after school starts and she hopes to start the nine-week educational program at Hanover in October. The educational program will be started at Benjamin Franklin later in the school year, likely sometime in January, Maffe said.
The long-term goal, Grabinski said, is to expand the program into all Meriden schools.
“It’s a really good idea and it makes a lot of sense,” she said about the food rescue program. “We’d like to get it into all Meriden schools as part of normal practice and hopefully it will go to other school districts as well.”
Students in the Kiwanis Club’s “K-Kids” program will help set up materials for the program each day and the donated food will be delivered to local nonprofits by volunteers from Midstate Arc, a nonprofit that serves intellectually and developmentally disabled people.
For the first time this school year, all Meriden schools will offer free breakfast and lunch to all students.
Grabinski said it “makes sense” to establish the food rescue program with the free breakfast and lunch program.