Parent-led program combats government's waste of food 

Afarin Homer, a mother and a frequent volunteer at Gaithersburg Middle School, couldn’t believe her eyes last March when she noticed how much food was being wasted from an after-school snack program. Thanks to food services regulations, much of the food was being thrown in the garbage, untouched.

Homer used her good reputation with the school to convince authorities that something better could be done with that food, and since then her program Food Recovery for the Hungry has redirected over 1,495 pounds of food to a community soup kitchen.

Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz presented an award for contributions to educational excellence Monday to the middle school and its five student ambassadors who have helped Homer implement the program.

Gaithersburg Middle School, which has a high concentration of students in poverty, supplies after-school snacks to its students, many of whom won’t be served dinner at home. Federal regulations prevent children from refusing or giving back items they don’t want (they would then be receiving less than a full legal "snack") and so a huge amount of food simply ends up in the trash.

“Nine times out of 10, I would see the kids eat the pizza and throw everything else in the trashcan,” Homer told the Examiner. “I was shocked. The hunger issue is increasing, so why isn’t the problem being addressed in schools?”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identifies food as America’s third-largest waste stream, with over 33 million tons of food scraps wasted in 2009.

Homer encountered resistance when she first took her idea for a program that would redirect unwanted food to a local soup kitchen to Montgomery County Public Schools’ Division of Food and Nutrition Services. She was eventually able to convince authorities with endorsement from the middle school principal and the school system’s superintendent. Having received permission, she is careful to ensure food safety by only accepting whole (uncooked) foods, and she keeps careful tabs on food deliveries so there is no question in anybody’s mind where the food ends up.

The Food Recovery for the Hungry program develops leadership among students while preventing food waste. Student volunteers help encourage their peers to donate unwanted foods to the “share table” rather than to the trashcan, and then sort and help deliver donated foods once a week.

“Clearly you have not only recognized a critical need in our community, you have coordinated efforts to work toward meeting this need through student leadership and student action,” wrote a parent of Jeremy Rubin, one of the student ambassadors awarded by the mayor, noting Jeremy’s growth in self-respect and knowledge through the program.

Due to the program’s success, Homer has received permission from the Division of Food and Nutrition Services to launch it in five other MontCo schools.

“The culture of [Gaithersburg Middle] School has changed from the culture of wasting and not caring to leaving extra food on the share table,” said Homer “There is no reason why every school in the nation shouldn’t be doing this.”

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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