Several years ago my kiddos elementary began a “Share Cooler” program in our lunchroom in an effort to cut down on waste, help students in our school and reach out to the community. And now the USDA is praising Share Tables as an “innovative strategy to encourage the consumption of nutritious foods and reduce food waste” (credit)
So would you like to implement a Share Table or Share Cooler in your school? Here are some tips to get started.
What is a Share Table or Share Cooler?
Share Tables are a way to reduce the waste in lunchrooms- while meeting a need right in the school and broader community as well. Basically a Share Table, or in our school’s case a “Share Cooler”, is set up in the school cafeteria. Students then have the option to give or take from the share table. For instance, maybe Jake doesn’t care for the milk in his paid lunch. He can “donate” it to the Share Cooler. And Lilly loves milk, so she is able to take advantage of Jake’s donation (and it doesn’t go in the trash).
Each school will determine how to implement the donation and sharing of the food during lunch time. But the focus is for food not to be thrown away. The items that are collected are generally milk, yogurt, cheese sticks, prepackaged vegetables or fruits, fruit snacks, applesauce and packaged crackers/snacks. Again, this is determined by the school as well as where the leftovers will be donated.
Who Benefits from the Share Table?
Not only does the Share Table help to keep good food out of the trash cans, it also helps meet nutritional needs. During the lunch hour, it gives some students the opportunity to supplement their own lunch. Whether they just need a little extra that day or maybe they didn’t have enough to begin with, the Share Cooler is benefiting students right in the school building.
The items that aren’t “shared” each lunch hour are then stored in a refrigerator in the school kitchen. Then once a week, volunteers from the PTA deliver the items to a local food pantry. Our school is in a suburb, but surprising to many, The Worthington Resource Pantry meets a huge need in the community. Hunger knows no boundary. Our school alone averages 50 lbs of donated food each week to help our neighbors (and there are other schools in the community participating as well) What a wonderful way to teach students to waste less and give more!
What do you think about Share Tables? Would you like to start a Share Cooler program in your school? Let me know what questions you have!