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4th graders help leftover lunches go to hungry

January 10, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
Since 1946, the National School Lunch program has been feeding American students free or low-cost meals.

Some of that food is eaten, but a lot of it is untouched and thrown away.

"We're required to give them a certain amount of food, they're required to take a certain amount of food. Over 700,000 students receive these meals on a daily basis," said the LAUSD food service's David Binkle.

More than 600 of those students attend Jaime Escalante Elementary School in Cudahy where trash cans are often heaping with uneaten food.

"We were averaging close to five hundred meals a week that were being thrown away," said school principal Beth Fuller.

But that's when fourth graders Paulina Sanchez and Lesly Heredia realized they didn't have much of an appetite for waste.

"I saw how many kids threw away their food. Why not just save it for other kids to eat if they're hungry?" said Sanchez

So they wrote a letter to the school district's food services director pitching their idea.

It turned out that LAUSD already had a food donation mandate in place, one that would help Lesly and Paulina with their plan to get unopened, left-over food to local charities.

Getting the program up and running wasn't as easy as you'd think. Because food was concerned, the district had to deal with the county health officials. Then they had to check, and double check, all the charities involved.

It took months, but the girls never gave up.

"It actually took a lot of work! I was quite surprised that it took a lot of work," Sanchez said.

But now, food at Escalante Elementary has three potential destinations: in stomachs, in the garbage, or if it's still sealed it can go in a bin.

Students who want seconds can go to the bins for more food. The rest is picked up by a local church group, all because of two very determined fourth graders.

"They were little, mini pit bulls! They were very persistent," said Fuller.

"We never quit! But I wouldn't say pit bulls!" said Sanchez.


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