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Sponsor: Bill would get schools’ unused food to hungry children

By MARY SELL, Alabama Daily News

Supporters of a bill filed this week in the Alabama House hope it will make it easier for schools to get unused food to hungry students. 

Federal law allows food to be donated to food banks and other charitable organizations. House Bill 566 could make it easier for food distribution to happen on school campuses and for food to be given directly to students.

“It makes me sick that there is food that goes into the Dumpster everyday and kids are going home hungry,” Rep. Wes Kitchens, A-Arab, said this week. He learned about the food waste issue from his father, an administrator at Arab City Schools.

“I saw a need, I saw how food was filling Dumpsters,” Kitchens said. He said the bill is modeled after laws in other states.

House Bill 566 would allow local school boards to adopt policies for distributing free food for students to eat at home to those who qualify under federal guidelines for free or reduced lunch and breakfast.

Schools could donate food to charitable organizations through an organization official who is also a school employee or parent of a student. 

“The donated food may be received, stored and distributed at the school,” according to the bill. School employees can act as volunteers of the charitable organization. 

“I think it’s a marvelous idea, I hope school systems take part in it,” Limestone County Schools Superintendent Tom Sisk said Wednesday after discussing the bill with lawmakers in Montgomery. 

His system already participates in the Full Tummy Project with the local Rotary Club. Students identified as being in need are given backpacks full of food on Friday afternoons to help get them through the weekend. Some of the food is donated from outside the school, but some is leftover from school meals. Schools also have snack tables, where discarded items are available to any student who wants them.

Jefferson County Superintendent Craig Pouncey said there is not a lot of food waste in that system. Last year, the Alabama State Department of Education gave one of the system’s larger high schools permission to give unused food to Magic City Harvest, which collects food from groceries, restaurants, hospitals and schools in Jefferson, Shelby and Talladega counties.

“The volume of surplus food wasn’t large enough for them to continue the relationship,” Pouncey said. “I think there are areas where this would be beneficial, but in a properly managed cafeteria you’re not going to have a whole lot of surplus food.”

Rep. Parker Moore, R-Decatur, is a co-sponsor on the bill.

“(Schools) can’t always plan accurately, whatever is leftover, there is no sense in it going to waste if it can be given to people who need it,” Moore said.

In 2016, about 236,000, or 22 percent, of Alabama children were living in “food insecure” homes where there was an uncertainty of having or an inability to acquire enough food, according to the Kids Count Databook that tracks factors related to children’s wellbeing. 

House Bill 566 has 31 co-sponsors. Kitchens said he hopes it gets a committee vote this week.

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