West Fargo Public Schools Partnering with Community Agencies on School Lunch Repack Pilot Program
West Fargo, ND – (March 3, 2021) – With the support of community agencies, three area school districts are piloting a one-month program to distribute unserved leftover meals to students through each host school’s food pantry. The program will reduce food waste and address the food insecurity experienced by the community’s youth.
Starting March 8, West Fargo Public Schools will join Fargo Public Schools and Moorhead Area Public Schools in the repacking and distribution of leftover meals to a school’s food pantry program. West Fargo’s Liberty Middle School will serve as the host facility for the district, as the school already has an established food pantry program through the school’s counseling office. At the end of each lunch service, remaining menu items will be packaged in microwave-safe containers donated by Power Plate Meals. The portioned meals will be cooled, labelled, and frozen before final delivery to the Liberty Middle School food pantry. Each meal will be labelled with allergen alerts, as well as instructions for safe handling and reheating.
The Food Service Department at West Fargo Public Schools serves 1.4 million lunches every year to students. With that volume, the district has taken steps to reduce the amount of waste. “Food waste has always been a concern in our school cafeterias. We have addressed the issue with strategies such as allowing students to decline offered menu items, implementing share tables, and packaging leftovers for community perishable food programs,” explained Dana Reith, Director of Food Service.
Beyond a reduction in food waste, the program’s primary goal is to provide meals to students experiencing food insecurity. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines food insecurity as “a lack of consistent access to enough food to live an active and healthy life.” Recent data from Feeding America indicates 9.1% of children under the age of 18 are food insecure in Cass County and 51% of the county participates in the Supplemental Nutrition & Assistance Program (SNAP), a federal program that provides support to low-income families in the purchasing of nutritional food items. At West Fargo Public Schools, the free/reduced meal rate, a federally recognized measure of poverty and low-income status, is 31% district-wide, with some individual schools having a rate as high as 60% - 70%.
“We have always had an interest in finding ways to use our over-produced food to support our own students,” Rieth stated. “Many students utilize food pantries in our school buildings, which typically offer shelf-stable canned and dry goods. The addition of the frozen leftovers will increase the number of healthy, nutritious options that students and families can select from the food pantry. The pilot project will give us the opportunity to test a possible solution that addresses the issues of food insecurity and food waste. If the pilot project shows success, it can be replicated at additional school buildings that have onsite food pantries.”
“Doing all that we can to be sure children are fed will always be an emphasis for us here,” said Nancy Carriveau, Great Plains Food Bank Program Director. “There is so much good in this pilot program. We will not only reduce the amount of food going to waste, but this will also add a great variety of foods to our growing School Pantry Program and, most importantly, feed even more children in need. We are thrilled to be able to work with United Way Cass Clay, Cass Clay Hunger Coalition, Cass & Clay Public Health, Power Plate Meals and each school district in this crucially important work.”
While the pilot will close the first week of April, the school’s food pantry will continue to disperse the frozen, repacked meals through the end of the year, or until they are all claimed. As two of the pilot’s community partners, the Great Plains Food Bank and United Way of Cass-Clay will collect data from all three districts during the four weeks. At the culmination of the program, data will be evaluated to determine the pilot’s reach and impact on the community.
“United Way is proud to partner on the School Lunch Repack Pilot Program. This innovative approach aligns strongly with our Bold Goal to reduce hunger by addressing food insecurity experienced by our community’s students,” added Megan Jenson, Senior Community Impact Manager. “Thank you to all of the partners who came together and for the school district’s willingness to pilot this program at key locations to best serve the students who are most in need.”
The pilot is made possible in part by financial support from United Way of Cass-Clay and the support from Great Plains Food Bank, Power Plate Meals, Fargo Cass Public Health, Clay County Public Health, and the Cass-Clay Hunger Coalition.