Share Tables in Schools Combat Hunger and Waste

How is it that 40% of food is thrown out in America, yet 14 million children go to bed and to school hungry?

According to a 2018 study by the Annie E. Foundation, these children represent 19% of all kids nationwide who live in food insecure households, which means that their families lack the necessary resources to buy food for everyone in their homes. Consequently, when children do not get enough to eat, their mental and physical health suffers and they struggle to learn, concentrate and adapt to their surroundings.

In an effort to combat food insecurity in the schools, “Share Tables” are popping up in cafeterias across the country which aim to address both problems in one fell swoop.

The new initiative backed by the United States Department of Agriculture strives to feed kids in need all while saving nutritious, usable food from landfills. All students need to do is leave unwanted food and drinks at a designated station where others can help themselves. Any food left at the end of the day can go towards after school programs or a nearby shelter or nonprofit.

One example of the tremendous success of Share Tables are the Madison County schools in Kentucky. Food Service Director, Scott Anderson said this is the second year they have had Share Tables in all 19 schools and that they save anywhere from $300-400 per day due to the repurposing of allowable items, realizing annual savings of $50,000 per year. Madison County provides both a free breakfast and free lunch to all students.

Scott said initially he tried it in a few schools and once he saw the tremendous savings, resources they conserved and how it taught kids to share, that he implemented it in all 19 schools. Additionally, the mindset of his staff changed by realizing that good food was going to waste and kids were going away hungry. In the majority of Madison County Schools they have a trained staff member monitor the Share Table to ensure only allow able products are returned. An allowable product is a packaged food item provided by the school, unpeeled whole fruit, milk and juice. In some schools Scott purchased “Share Carts” and “Coolcheck” pans to keep temperature sensitive products safely according to local health regulations and HACCP guidelines.

Scott’s program allows kids to take one food item from the Share Table at lunch time and all remaining product is provided to sports teams and after school program participants. I asked if any of the kids felt awkward about taking something from the Share Table and he said “not at all, it is a huge success!”

The idea makes extra sense when you consider the restrictions of the Federal School Lunch Program. Cafeterias cannot reserve something from the day before and law dictates that students must take a certain amount of food, even if they don’t like a particular food item or feel hungry. While legal ambiguities kept campuses from doing something similar, the USDA released a memo supporting the “innovative strategy.”

Although the USDA advocates Share Tables, before implementing in your own school, you should familiarize yourself with pertinent state and local health regulations that govern what foods and drinks can be saved and the manner in which they must be kept.

However, to ensure total compliance with food safety requirements, operators should discuss plans for a Share Table with their local health department prior to implementation. Further, schools must ensure that their policies for saving and sharing food or beverage items are consistent with the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), plan 2.

And finally, you’ll like the fact that the only equipment needed to start your own Share Table that meets all state and local health code regulations is a “ShareCart” from New Age Industrial and a couple “Coolcheck” pans made by Carlisle Foodservice Products which are very affordable and available from your commercial food equipment supplier.So join the hundreds of other schools who are doing their part to stop hunger and reduce waste by starting your Share Table today! Find a Zink school foodservice representative to get help in implementing a share table at your school.