by Liz Duda
York County (May 29, 2019) Eat Smart Move More York County (ESMMYC) welcomed the York School District 1’s Food Service Director, Latisha Holt, to our April 9 general membership meeting. Ms. Holt discussed the district’s successful food share program, Stop Food Waste, finishing up its third year. She covered its origin, school and student participation, and tips for school districts wanting to start a program. She also described the York County Summer Feeding Program, which provides free meals throughout York County for students.
- While Stop Food Waste Day was supposed to be a one-day event, the York School District saw that it was an achievable and impactful program. So they turned it into an ongoing, daily Stop Food Waste program that benefits the school and community!
- This can be done at other school districts too. See “Tips from Ms. Holt” at the end of this article – getting buy-in; partnering with a local nonprofit; and getting a grant for refrigerators to ensure food safety.
- Partner with a local nonprofit which can pick up the food and distribute it to the community. But “first dibs” can go to the kids in the cafeteria.
- Next up – the York School District is thinking about how to enact a “hot food waste program.”
- Eat Smart Move More York County would like to support school districts in their food share efforts. (Our June 11 general membership meeting guest speakers from DHEC also will focus on Don’t Waste Food SC.)
In the beginning: Stop Food Waste began as a one-day Stop Food Waste Day event under the leadership of the Compass Group. It was in April which the White House designated as Winning on Reducing Food Waste Month. Once the schools saw it was an easy success, they wanted to continue the program every day. The food service director got approval from the principals and administration to formalize the program. Once the principals confirmed food safety, they agreed it was a good fit for their district and community. Chartwells School Dining Services K12, which serves the York and Clover School Districts, also supported the initiative.
The York School District program began at seven schools. Local nonprofit, Tender Hearts Ministries, offered to pick up the food from each school. The school district received “Got Milk” refrigeration bins to store the donated food, as part of a grant through the dairy alliance promoting milk usage in the schools.
And now: Now in the program’s third year, Tender Hearts Ministries continues to pick up the donated food. They collect the food from half the schools on Mondays and Fridays and the other half on Wednesdays; and the following week the schedule is flipped. Tender Heart bags and distributes the food to the community (including Tender Hearts, Family Promise of York County in Rock Hill, the Pilgrims Inn shelter in Rock Hill, and the Clover Area Assistance Center). At Tender Hearts, people sign up weekly to receive the bags. Senior citizens in particular benefit from fresh fruits/vegetables/milk.
Lessons learned: Over time they have “worked out the kinks,” once having to stop the program because Tender Hearts needed more time to manage the donated food. Also, they found that the program “didn’t catch on” at the high schools so the program is only at the elementary and middle schools. But the amounts add up over nine schools – students donated over 4,000 pounds in 2017 and nearly 20,000 pounds from 2018 to now. Believe it or not, this represents a low percentage of the food consumed!
What the students think: Students have become used to the program and are proud to help. They are encouraged to eat their food and not buy extras. (In the beginning, staff had to coach the students to not buy extras, such as chips, to donate.) Other students have first priority in consuming the donated items, known as the “share table,” in the cafeteria. On top of that, students may go back to the lunch counter for more fruits/vegetables (to eat, not to donate).
How it works: Most donations are from “breakfast in the classroom” program, as students are required to take a whole fruit and milk. (At lunch, apples are cut in half, which helps some children eat more, but which cannot be donated.) Students place all their donations into the “Got Milk” bin and school staff separates it. Accepted items include unopened milk cartons; unpeeled fresh fruit; and pre-packaged items (e.g., yogurt or string cheese). The school district has learned to freeze the milk to help it stay colder for longer. Interestingly, schools cannot re-sell uneaten food/drinks to other students – the state department doesn’t allow it, due to reimbursement requirements (i.e., for financial reasons).
Annual food drive: The York School District also has an annual food drive and last year donated approximately 600 pounds to Tender Hearts. It was the first time that Tender Hearts could stay open all year! This year, the food drive started on April 23. They collected 480 pounds of food!
What’s next: Going forward, the York School District is thinking about how to implement a hot food waste program.
“Tips from Ms. Holt” – To start a food share program in your school district, Ms. Holt recommends:
- Get support of food services director
- Get support of superintendent/assistant superintendent
- Get support of principals (PAC/principals meeting)
- Arrange for a nonprofit to pick up the food
- Obtain a grant (e.g., “Got Milk” refrigerators) or purchase coolers to maintain the temperature of the cold food items.
Eat Smart Move More York County would be pleased to speak to your school district about starting a food waste program. Let’s work together to make the healthy choice the easy choice, and help our community. Attend our June 11, 2019, general meeting, to hear our DHEC guest speaker discuss their Don’t Waste Food SC program.
 Compass Group is the parent company of Chartwells School Dining Services K12, the York School District’s food service provider.
 Tender Heart Ministries is a local nonprofit which comprises a community outreach event, a shelter for homeless women and their children, and two thrift stores,