By Katie Anderson.
Last October, I began serving a Montana Energy Corps term at Home ReSource as a Zero Waste Educator & Planner. This year, under the leadership of Superintendent Mark Thane, Home ReSource and the Missoula County Public Schools are partnering to create a district-wide Zero Waste Plan. While much of the nitty-gritty planning is yet to come, I have begun identifying local opportunities to reduce school food waste and keep leftovers out of the landfill.
The Missoula Food Bank collects unsellable foods from grocery stores and similar businesses to donate to its clients. Its Food Circle Program goes one step further. Volunteers collect prepared, perishable food items from commercial establishments and bring them to the food bank. They then repackage the items into frozen single-portion meals and make them available to food bank clients. In 2016, Food Bank volunteers rescued over 48,000 pounds of food! Kelli Hess, the food bank’s Programs and Operations Director, is excited to get a second delivery truck this winter. The food rescue programs are nearly at capacity with one truck—perhaps the local schools could meet the capacity of a second!
The importance of food waste reduction is not lost on students in the community. UM students Mason Dow and Willem Morris began taking action last year. Their program, Feeding the 406, rescues cafeteria food from Big Sky and Sentinel high schools and donates it to the Poverello Center. The food items are provided as a supplement to the center’s regular meals. Last year, the two students collected over 1,000 pounds of food! Though Willem was not on campus this past fall when we spoke, Mason continues the food pickups. He hopes to make the program self-sustaining in the years ahead with the support of high school students. In the meantime, Feeding the 406 will continue reducing high schools’ food waste one lunchtime pickup at a time!
As we at Home ReSource enter into the early stages of planning with MCPS for a Zero Waste school district, our efforts will be well-served to focus on reducing wasted food from kitchens and cafeterias by rescuing what we can and composting the rest. No one objects to “easy wins” with big payoffs, and donating excess prepared school food to people in need appears to be just that.