Indiana School District Creates Innovative Leftover Cafeteria Food Program To Assist Hungry Students


School cafeteria food has traditionally gotten a lot of flak for not being very appetizing, but most school cafeterias have come a long way in making their meals much more appealing and nutritious.


For some kids, their school lunch is the only square meal they will have in a single day.

While most schools carefully plan how much food to prepare each day, there are often leftovers. Typically, those leftovers are tossed, which is unfortunate considering that there are many hungry little mouths that would gladly consume them.

But sometimes the answer to a problem is more obvious than we think. If there is extra food each day, and if there are families that are in need of food… what about bringing the extra food to those that need it??

An Indiana school district has recently implemented a program that repackages the un-served leftover school cafeteria lunches into frozen individually portioned meals for students in need to take home.

Elkhart School District of South Bend, Indiana, has created a partnership with a local nonprofit called Cultivate in order to ensure that school cafeteria leftovers are not going to waste. Cultivate assists the schools in creating weekend meals out of the unused food. Every Friday, roughly 20 students are given backpacks containing eight individual frozen meals.

Photo Credit: WSBT

Cultivate staff worked closely with Elkhart Community Schools to devise a solution to the issue of excess cafeteria food potentially going to waste each week. As Jim Conklin of Cultivate explained when interviewed by Indiana news station WSBT:

Mostly, we rescue food that’s been made but never served by catering companies, large food service businesses, like the school system. You don’t always think of a school.

Think for a moment about the vast amount of prepared food that likely goes to waste each day in a typical restaurant.

Cultivate works to try & bring that excess food to people in need. School cafeterias are similar in that sense; while food is prepared to well-planned scale, there inevitably ends up being leftover food that has not been consumed. That’s where Cultivate’s services come in, as described by Conklin:

We take well-prepared food, combine it with other food and make individual frozen meals out if it.

Elkhart Community Schools were aware that they had an abundance of leftover lunch throughout the week, and didn’t want it to go to waste when there were those that could benefit from the distribution of it. 

Natalie Bickel, a student services staff member, explained to WSBT the reasoning for teaming up with Cultivate:

At Elkhart Community Schools, we were wasting a lot of food. There wasn’t anything to do with the food. So they came to the school three times a week and rescued the food.

Instead of merely throwing out the leftover cooked cafeteria food, Cultivate picks up the uneaten quantities & repackages it into individually portioned freezer meals. The meals are then distributed to students who are in need of them.

The program has just been initiated, with 20 Woodland School students receiving 8 freezer meals each Friday until the end of the school year. 

Photo Credit: WSBT

The local Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Academy Commerce also assisted in getting the pilot program off the ground. Members were concerned about how the socio-economic status of community members might be affecting the access to regular meals for some families, & this seemed like a potentially helpful method of assisting local families in need.

Melissa Ramey, a Chamer Leadership Academy member, explained to WSBT why the program is so valuable to the Elkhart community:

It’s making a big impact. I am proud of that. It was heartbreaking to hear that children go home on the weekends and that they don’t have anything to eat.

Although this program is still in it’s infancy, it’s brilliant in its simplicity. Every child deserves to receive a sufficient food supply, & it’s inspiring to see a school district rallying around its community members to address their needs with the district’s surplus. Hopefully Elkhart’s pilot program will become the norm in all school districts across the country.



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