Handling leftovers at home is one thing, but what do you do with unsold food left over from a cafeteria that feeds over 1,500 students? Fortunately, food rescue is in great hands at Needham High School thanks to a partnership with the organization Food for Free. Starting in January 2019, much of the safe, unplated food left over from the high school cafeteria, that can’t be used there, is no longer discarded. Instead, Food for Free makes sure that those unsold chicken and cheese quesadillas or other dishes find their way to persons in need, perhaps families or college students struggling to make ends meet.
Food for Free arrives once each week with a specialized truck to pick up leftover unplated food that has been rescued from the high school cafeteria. There are strict rules about handling the food — the staff takes it right off the cafeteria line, then it is brought to a proper temperature, bagged, labeled, and frozen. No fresh produce is used, but starches, grains, meats, and vegetables are included. According to Nutrition Services Director Ruth Griffin, who led the effort to partner with Food for Free, the high school donates enough bagged food to fill about two 15″ x 20″ recycling bins a week.
After being picked up at the high school, the frozen food is brought to a church kitchen in Watertown, where Food for Free workers and volunteers break up the food while still frozen and artfully package it into separate portions. These appealing bundles of nutrition are then distributed to those who are food insecure.
In addition to its social mission, the Food for Free program addresses a serious environmental problem. Deb Schmill, a local food activist and Green Needham member, points out that a shocking 30-40% of the food produced in the U.S. is wasted. Thrown away! When it ends up in a landfill and is deprived of oxygen, it breaks down into methane, a potent greenhouse gas. She emphasizes that food rescue programs fill a vital role in disrupting this food waste cycle.
Other nearby Food for Free participants include the Wellesley Public Schools, and Babson, Olin and Wellesley Colleges. Now that Needham High School is adding to the supply of donated food, they proudly account for part of the more than 2 million pounds of food distributed each year by Food for Free.
A huge thanks to Ruth Griffin, cafeteria staff, and all who have seen this effort through.