We love this genius way of helping families and hungry kids. Let's hope it catches on!

By Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD
Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock

It's a sad fact that there's both rampant hunger and rampant food waste in our country. Now a new program is tackling both at once, and we couldn't love it more: An elementary school in Indiana is donating leftover cafeteria food to be packaged and sent home for the weekend with families in need.

The new pilot program is a joint effort between Woodland Elementary School in Elkhart, Indiana and Cultivate Culinary, a non-profit group in South Bend that rescues unused food from places like hospitals, catering companies, and universities. Cultivate picks up Woodland's leftover cafeteria food and combines it with food they've rescued elsewhere to build complete, nutritious meals for families. Eight frozen meals are sent home with students each weekend in cooler backpacks. The meals, packaged in recyclable containers, are microwavable.

Currently, 20 elementary school families receive the weekend meals, but they're hoping to expand the program and include more, says Natalie Bickel, Supervisor of Student Services at Elkhart Community Schools.

It's estimated that about half of U.S. children in the public school system live in poverty, and many kids rely on school food for nutrition during the week. This kind of program helps fill the gaps on the weekend for families who struggle to afford enough food.

In the last 18 months, Cultivate has rescued 150,000 pounds of food and served more than 100,000 meals, according to Cultivate's board president and co-founder Jim Conklin. They provide meals to places like food pantries and programs that feed elderly populations or those facing physical and mental disabilities. They also run a second backpack pilot program at Madison STEAM Academy in South Bend that feeds about 100 families.

Both Cultivate and Elkhart Community Schools have been flooded with requests from people wanting to start similar programs in their communities. They're currently working on information to share via their websites. In the meantime, here's how to start a Feed A Friend program at your child's school to send groceries home with families in need.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The 101 Healthiest Foods For Kids. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.



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