"Best Practices" Manual For
Ms. Maureen Lutterman, Food Service Director for Albany County School District No.1, started the Food Recovery Project in Albany County Wyoming (Laramie) in 1998. "I took the project request as a personal challenge to better the life of the community" said Ms. Lutterman.
In order to get the project off the ground, Ms. Lutterman met with organizations in the Laramie area who serve the needy. These included food pantries, soup kitchens, and the local SNAP office. These meetings provided Ms. Lutterman with insight into the extent of the hungry problem in Laramie and convinced her that a program was feasible. Ms. Lutterman soon realized that the recovered food would never stretch as far as needed. Original plans were to send food to soup kitchen, food banks, the elderly, and other needy. Her research revealed however, that there was one group of needy that had never been targeted. These are young people who are on their own, by necessity or by choice, between the ages of 13 to 25. Many are parents, many are poor, and many do not receive parental help. They often do not go through the usual channels for help.
As luck would have it, a hunger awareness activity day occurred in Laramie during the same time that Ms. Lutterman was attempting to get the program started. The meeting was sponsored by several civic and government organizations in the area. The proposed food recovery program was put on the agenda. It received an enthusiastic response from community leaders. The support of the School District Superintendent, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum, and nine schools in Albany County School District No. 1 was enlisted. Parents were informed about the project through a parent advisory meeting. Teachers were informed through information sheets distributed to the faculty. Laramie City Environmental Health inspectors were enlisted to establish documentation requirements and food safety procedures for the project.
In this project, foods not used in the school food service are picked up from nine schools in the district and repackaged into family size portions. A variety of excess food from breakfast and lunch are transported daily by food service staff to a central kitchen at Whiting Alternative High School. This school also provides a variety of alternative learning environments for students in both classroom and community settings. In the kitchen, student volunteers and food service staff pack the food into servings to feed three to six persons. The staff also devised an easy system for repackaging excess foods like cheese and spaghetti sauce, vegetables and other foods not in pieces. They set up a tray of six, one gallon plastic jugs that fit a food service bread sack. They can quickly fill the jugs with food, twist shut, and place it on the freezer shelves. Dated labels are applied, although dates are not too relevant because the food moves out very quickly. It is then frozen, and stored in two upright freezers purchased with USDA funds. The labeled portions allow recipients to identify what they want and serve themselves from the freezers. The food is given out to those in need by food service staff in the High School cafeteria once a week. The area needy come to the kitchen on Thursdays between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. to pick up the frozen portions for re-heating at home. Any food left over after the needy have selected their choices is delivered to a local food pantry. During the summer months, lunches recovered from the summer feeding program are used as the source of the meals.
Information about this program is spread mostly by word of mouth. This method has sufficed up to now since limited food is available. The Program is looking into a more structured advertising approach that would provide a more consistent client base.
USDA funds were used to purchase a 15 foot long truck and fit it with a lift. The truck does not require a special drivers license - - making it easier to find drivers. The truck is used by food service staff to recover leftovers from three schools. School District vans pick up the leftovers from the other six schools which participate in the program. Food is picked up daily. It is brought to the central kitchen at the Whiting Alternative High School. Although the food is frozen at the schools where it is recovered (except on pick-up days), it is always a challenge to keep it cold enough during its trip to the central kitchen for repackaging. Pans with gel in the walls that can be strapped into a truck for transport were purchased with USDA funds. They keep food cold for eight hours and have worked very well.
The School District integrated an in-depth study of social studies curriculum into its classes so there are lots of opportunities for students to talk about service learning theory as it relates to the food recovery project. The curriculum includes "Kitchen Keys," a short hands-on lesson on sanitation in food handling presented by food service staff during the year to District students in grades K-12. Service Learning Theory curriculum material from the University of South Carolina is used for benchmarks and teaching objectives. These materials, as well as a HACCP kit from USDA, is funded through a Nutrition Education and Training project. The program is also exploring the possibility of becoming a service learning project. Ms. Lutterman is optimistic about the possibility, "new things in the school system seem to take about three years to really get going - - just about enough time for our freshman to become seniors" she said.
The food recovery project pretty much runs itself these days. The basic equipment and supplies that were needed have been purchased using the project money provided by USDA. "Now expenses are minimal" she said. Staff have gotten used to the routines involved in food recovery and so have the recipients. Ms. Lutterman is pleased with how well the program has turned out. "Im glad that the program has been able to serve a population that, for various reasons, seemed to be falling through the cracks" she said.
Here is Ms. Luttermans advice for someone wanting to start a food recovery program at their school:
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Last Updated: 10/10/08