Westfield Washington Schools, Sodexho team up with local food pantry to stop hunger
By Mark Ambrogi
For Washington Woods Elementary School fourth-grader Elizabeth Carney, the decision for her school to take part in Food Rescue was easy.
“I think it’s important not to waste your food and people that don’t have food can get food,” she said.
Carney is one of the students who have embraced Westfield Washington School District’s plan to give recycle leftover food from the students’ lunch trays for a mobile food pantry.
Sodexo provides the food service for the district. Beverly Goza-Holmes, a Sodexo general manager, serves as director of Student Nutrition Services for the school district.
“Two parents had heard about Food Rescue through another school district,” Goza-Holmes said. “We all met and we needed to decide how we would roll out the program. Sodexo is very big on stopping hunger. Finding a way to re-use the food that would go into the landfills is great. My biggest concern with the new (school lunch) regulations is that we are not wasting. Students have to take a fruit or a vegetable to be considered a reimbursable meal. Often times, they take it but they don’t want to eat it.”
Washington Woods and Oak Trace Elementary were the first two schools to pilot the program on Sept. 8. Goza-Holmes said she wanted to work the kinks out of the program before adding more schools. All nine district schools are now participating with the last three starting Sept. 29.
“We have done lot of activities like this through the years,” said Scott Williams, Washington Woods principal. “We did an empty bowl project where we tried to raise food and money for the hungry in our area. This is just another activity where students can be active in helping the community. There are no reasons not to do it and lots of good reasons to do it.”
Goza-Holmes said students might decide they are full, so instead of throwing away a sandwich or package of pre-sliced apples, they can put the items in Food Rescue crates on a desk near where they return dishes to be washed.
Washington Woods fourth-grader Caelyn Cramer said not everybody contributes each time, but many do.
The food service staff then dates and stores the items until Friday morning. Stilts Spirit — A Giving Tree volunteers picks up the rescued food from all nine schools in the district. The volunteers then sort, store and distribute the food items through A Giving Tree Community Pantry. The items have to be pre-packaged, pre-sealed and unopened. The items are picked up on Fridays and distributed by the mobile food pantry on Saturdays at Carey Road and Ind. 32 in Westfield of the first Saturday of every month.
“To see it from the road, you would think it was a farmers’ market,” Goza-Holmes said. “It’s a great opportunity for these people in need.”
Christina Stilts said her faith-based, nonprofit organization is honored to be partnered with the school district and Food Rescue. Stilts said those organizations have provided the pantry with food items that are a valuable and sustainable source of nutrients that guests may be lacking in their diet.
“We love being able to provide them with healthy alternatives – fruit cups versus potato chips, milk and fruit juice versus sodas and apples, yogurt and cheese versus snacks loaded with sodium and preservatives,” said Stilts, who runs the organization with her husband, Don. “We are grateful for this partnership and our guests are enjoying the new selections that have been introduced to them through this program.”
Stilts said she expects participating by the students to grow as there is more awareness.
“I believe the teachers, staff and fantastic cafeteria teams will ensure its growth,” Stilts said.
Stilts’ organization also delivers groceries to the Hamilton County residents in need.
“We offer this service to all guests, but primarily we reserve this service to the guest who is unable to join us for a pantry day due to physical or health limitations, lack of resources for gasoline or their schedule does not permit their attendance,” Stilts said.
Here’s an example of foods collected in one week from the schools:
9 squeeze packets of applesauce
43 string cheese
312 cartons of milk
41 packages of fruit snacks
107 granola/fiber/nutria-grain bars
86 fruit juice cups
62 fruit cups
138 packages of apples, grapes, oranges and carrots
Chicken and rice