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Lunch Bunch: St. I’s Food Rescue Squad tackles waste

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Body + Soul

By Erin Schurenberg

The slogan for St. Ignatius Loyola School in Monfort Heights is: “Starts with I and ends with US.” 

     Such a slogan definitely applies to their Food Rescue Program, started during the 2016-17 school year, and growing in popularity ever since. The collective efforts of the “us” at St. Ignatius are curbing food waste and feeding the hungry.

     With more than 1,000 students enrolled in the grade school, cafeteria workers and volunteer helpers noticed untouched food going to waste by the time lunch had ended. Beth Reynolds, cafeteria manager, spoke to then-Principal Tim Reilly about the cafeteria team’s desire to save the unwanted food from the garbage. Together, they discovered a program started in Indiana by former teacher John Williamson, who was troubled by the amount of food being wasted in our country. 

     Ten years ago, with the help of businessman Scott Dorsey, Williamson set up a non-profit organization called Food Rescue. Today, its popular K-12 Food Rescue Program operates in 500 schools across the country and helps to distribute some of the estimated 1 billion unwanted, unpeeled, and unwrapped food items wasted annually in American schools. Students in the program also work to curb food waste through their Student Leader Entrepreneurial Initiative (SLEI), which encourages high school students to lead their peers into a new “food is not trash” mindset.

     The single largest source of household trash is unused food, yet one in six Americans experiences food insecurity, defined by the USDA as the lack of access, at times, to enough food for all household members. The movement Williamson started is keeping three million food items out of landfills each year in Indiana alone; diverting them instead to food pantries or similar agencies.

     Armed with guidance from Food Rescue, staff members at St. Ignatius set up a donation table complete with a cooler for items that should be kept refrigerated. “If there is a packaged, unopened food product that a student does not want to eat or drink, they can put these items on the donate table,” explained St. Ignatius staffer Patty Thomas. “At the end of the lunch periods, a Food Rescue Squad sorts and counts the donations. Once a week, folks from the Corpus Christi Food Pantry come to pick up these donations.”

     Forty years ago, one of the founders of the Corpus Christi Food Pantry was Reynold’s mother, the late Mary Annis. Not only is this connection inspiring for Reynolds, but she also sees how positively affected the students are who crew the Food Squad. The original crew consisted of sixth graders Joseph Boling, Owen Hardig, Nikolas Essen, Owen Kramer, Benjamin Weber and Jack Hardig, most of whom will stay involved as counters or in training the next Food Squad this year.   

     More than 2,900 meals were rescued last school year. “This work has opened the students’ hearts and engaged these kids in a way that is exciting,” said Reynolds. 

The original members of the St. Ignatius Food Squad pose by the table where students can leave uneaten, wrapped items from their packed lunches. (COURTESY PHOTO)
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