WALLINGFORD — After starting a “share table” program in February that has helped salvage over 5,000 pounds of uneaten food in school cafeterias, a group of volunteers is looking to help surrounding school districts implement the same program.
“We’re trying to spread this into as many towns that support it,” said Jennifer Janus, a volunteer who helped spearhead the initiative last year while working as a lunch/recess aide at Rock Hill Elementary School. “My goal is to have it statewide.”
Janus and fellow volunteer Lisa Teodosio helped establish a program in several Wallingford schools last year that allows students to place an uneaten and sealed food item on a table, called a “share table,” for other students. Any food that is left over on the table is taken to Master’s Manna food pantry at the end of each day. Since February, dozens of volunteers have helped bring over 5,300 pounds of food to Master’s Manna, which serves about 400 to 500 families each week.
“The first goal is to make sure there’s no hungry kids at school,” Janus said about the share tables. “The second goal is to bring the food here so we can feed the hungry people our town ... This is all food that would get thrown away. Food is not trash.”
The volunteers are now trying to expand the program into other school districts by creating a “blueprint” document for the program. Janus said she met with school officials from Meriden this week. Food pantries in Southington and Cheshire have also reached out to the volunteers to ask about starting a similar system.
“Now we’re just trying to put this into document form and grow this and bring a lot of attention to it so that other towns will take notice and do it,” Janus said.
Mike Grove, Meriden’s assistant superintendent for finance and administration, said Meriden plans to pilot a program modeled after Wallingford’s at one school in the coming months.
“We'll see how it goes from there,” said Grove, who met with Janus along with other school officials last week. Grove said the district still has to figure out some procedural issues and work with the Health Department before piloting. It hasn’t been determined which school will kick off the program, Grove said.
Nine schools in Wallingford participate in the food salvage initiative. Only students who purchase school lunches are permitted to donate food to a share table due to concerns about food allergies. Food must be commercially packaged and sealed to be shared with other students. Some food isn’t allowed due to state nutrition guidelines, but those items, such as untouched apples or cartons of milk, can still be brought to Master’s Manna.
Some schools have “share tables,” while other schools have “donate only” tables, where food goes directly to Master’s Manna and cannot be shared.
Janus and Teodosio started the share table initiative last year while working as lunchroom aides at Rock Hill Elementary and noticing how much lunch got thrown out. Janus said 2,749 pounds of food has been donated to Master’s Manna in about two months this school year. That number nearly matches the amount of food, 2,835 pounds, donated over four months last school year.
Janus said people are “blown away” when they learn how much food gets donated to Master’s Manna from schools.
“Any person that sees the amount of food that gets thrown away in school has to be horrified,” said Gail Powell, chairwoman of the Master’s Manna board of directors.
The initiative has received “total support” from Superintendent Salvatore Menzo, who has shared the concept with a few surrounding districts. “I am proud that we are one of the first districts in the state” to start the share table program, Menzo said.
The concept of “share tables” received attention in Wallingford earlier this year when Nick Iannone, who is now a freshman at Sheehan High School, came up with the idea for a school project as a student at Moran Middle School. Janus and other volunteers started coordinating share table efforts independently of Iannone, but have since teamed up with Iannone after learning about his project.
“We all just felt it was best to connect with Nick to strengthen this in the eyes of the community,” Janus said.
Wallingford has “locked arms” with Food Rescue, a Indiana organization that works with schools and restaurants nationwide to cut down on food waste. Iannone is Food Rescue’s director of student leadership for Connecticut.
“It puts us under the umbrella of something that’s been happening for 10 years and is recognized,” Janus said about partnering with Food Rescue.