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Food, Lifestyle, News

Hunger Series: Food for thought — we waste 133 billion pounds of food a year

(Spenser R. Hasak)

Every year, the United States throws away more than one-third of all the food it produces — 133 billion pounds. And grocery stores are responsible for tossing 10 percent of that.

Some of this food waste is inevitable, because of regulations designed to keep the consumer safe. Local school superintendents say it’s nearly impossible to measure how much food is thrown away by students, but all local school departments are committed to reducing waste.

Other businesses, such as Whole Foods Market, have found a way to use discarded food and help the environment.

Equally impressive, some organizations, like Creighton Pond Day Camp in Middleton, have found a way to avoid throwing out any food at all.

Creighton Pond Day Camp, run by the Lynn Boys & Girls Club, has been providing free lunches for children ages 6 to 14 every summer for the past decade. For years, many campers were unable to bring their own lunch on a daily basis, prompting former Lynn Boys & Girls Club executive director, Obie Barker, to ask the Lynn Public Schools administration for help.

Since then, the two organizations have worked together and ensured that every camper spends the day with a full stomach.

“We give them (the school department) the total number of lunches we will need for the following day,” said Leland Boutilier, camp director. “The goal is to have none left over.”

The few leftover lunches at the end of each day are dispersed among hungry staff members and campers, said Boutilier. The priority may be giving kids the summer fun their parents expect, but the goal is to also guarantee they’re having fun while staying healthy.

At Land of a Thousand Hills, a coffee shop on Munroe Street in Lynn, a unique partnership with The Haven Project, a non-profit organization helping homeless and unaccompanied young adults, has reaped dividends. One hundred percent of the shop’s proceeds go to the non-profit.

“Here at the shop we make every order fresh,” said Gini Mazman, executive director. “There’s never a waste of food at the end of the day.”

Whole Foods Market, which has stores locally in Swampscott and Lynnfield, has partnerships with local food banks and donates food at the end of each day to those in need. It also has an organized, comprehensive food composting program. The organic material is compacted and sent to regional composting centers. The food waste is composted in an environment that may include garden waste. It takes approximately six months to convert the waste into nutrient-rich compost, which is then donated or distributed to community gardens, used in landscaping, or sold in Whole Foods stores.

It participates in Massachusetts-based Recycling Works, a group with a mission to reduce business’ food waste.

“Because we do so much production we have food diversion programs,” said Karen Franczyk, Green Mission coordinator for the North Atlantic Region for Whole Foods Market. “One of our core values is to do what’s best for the environment.”

About 47 percent of elementary school students in Saugus qualify for free or reduced price lunch, said Saugus Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi. About 27 percent of all students were classified as economically disadvantaged during the 2016-2017 school year.

“Our rates of economically disadvantaged are going up,” said DeRuosi. “We’re watching a gradual increase of 5 or 6 percent a year. I wouldn’t be surprised if, for the first time, we will be at 50 or 51 percent economically disadvantaged next year.”

DeRuosi said the problem in Saugus is reflective of the problem in the nation.

“Right now, one child in five lives in poverty in this country,” he said. “Forty  percent of all children live in low-income families. When it comes to food insecurity, it is a real deal.”

Because of the stigma, DeRuosi said he knows there are other students who could use assistance but don’t seek help. He believes elementary school children are more likely to accept help than middle and high school students.

The Saugus United Parish Food Pantry, which operates out of the Cliftondale Congregational Church on Friday mornings, receives donations from a few local businesses.

Company-wide, Panera Bread donates unsold bread and baked goods to local hunger relief and charitable organizations at the end of the day. The program is  called Day-End Dough-Nation.

Panera Bread only allows freshly baked goods to sit on the shelf for a single day. Rather than tossing unsold breads, bagels, muffins, and pastries in a dumpster, employees box them up for local nonprofits. Any tax-exempt rescue mission, food pantry, food bank, soup kitchen, meals delivery program, senior center, nursing home, school, or church is eligible to receive items.

Once an organization is approved to receive the goods, it sends a volunteer to the store after closing time for a pickup.

In Saugus, pickups are made by a pantry volunteer on Thursday nights.

Wendy Reed, director of the United Parish Food Pantry, said Stop & Shop and HoneyBaked Ham in Saugus both donate unexpired items when they turn over their inventory. There is nothing wrong with the items, but the companies follow a policy to empty the entire fridge at once rather than checking for dates, she said.


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