Food insecurity is a reality that many Miami-Dade County families face on a daily basis. Some 240,000 kids go to bed hungry every night, according to Feeding South Florida statistics.
To help mitigate the effects of food insecurity in the county, the Miami Dade-County Public Schools board unanimously approves different initiatives aimed at reducing food waste throughout the school system and exploring different food-sharing program possibilities.
School board member Steve Gallon is leading the effort, though he had unanimous support in committee. The school board will research initiatives, programs and strategies aimed at teaching students the impact food waste has on the environment and their community. The school board will tackle food insecurity by implementing pilot "food-sharing" programs in different schools throughout the district by no later than the second semester of the 2019-2020 school year.
“We have so much food that is wasted but at the same time so many people going hungry,” he said.
Gallon has been researching successful avenues other school districts have used to abate and eliminate food waste in schools. One of those initiatives is the “share tables” concept, endorsed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
A “share table” is a designated place in a school cafeteria where students return food items they choose not to eat, in order for other students who want additional servings to pick up and eat at no cost. Items such as unopened milk cartons, yogurt, sliced oranges or vegetables are placed on the table for other students. The remaining food in the “share table” can be then used for after-school use or donated to nonprofits, according to the USDA.
The goal is to develop partnerships with different groups to reduce food waste and develop a pilot program, such as the “share tables” concept, to provide food for students, families, and members of the community.
At the state level, the Orange County Public Schools system in Orlando has been using the initiative for the last two years. Nationally, other school systems have used similar strategies to help feed students who may not have enough food provided for them.
Schools that want to implement “share tables” have to comply with local and state health and food safety codes, according to the USDA. In addition, as part of the teaching component, the USDA advices that “share tables” guidelines are clearly visible and that schools explain the concept to children.
The district came face to face with the level of food insecure of some families. In 2017, during Hurricane Irma and its aftermath, the school board scrambled to feed students and their families after schools remain closed for more than 10 days in some cases.
“That experience reminded the school district and this community that we have a significant number of people living in poverty,” Gallon said. The school board fed some 50,000 families during that time. Since, the school board adopted a policy that it will continue to feed students in the event of a mandatory shutdown.
Presently, MDCPS partners with different nonprofits, such as Feeding South Florida, to meet the dietary needs of its students. The school system provides free breakfast to all of its students. Over 70 percent of public schools students in the county qualify for the National School Lunch Program, which provides free or low-cost lunches. In addition, the school system feeds students during spring break and summer vacation.
“I think his item completes a very nice portfolio of offerings to address the food insecurity in our community,” Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said.