By Melissa Pamer Staff Writer |Daily News/Daily Breeze |http://bit.ly/uI0GJo
Vanessa Day boxes up leftover lunch items at Gulf Avenue Elementary School as part of a new LAUSD program. The leftover meals and other items are donated to a food-for-the-needy program at Wilmington's Sts. Peter and Paul Church. (Brad Graverson Staff Photographer)
11/25/2011 06:48:51 AM PST - Until this year, the leftovers from Los Angeles Unified student lunches - thousands of cartons of milk and many tons of food - were getting trashed each day because the school district was hampered by law from donating or sharing with hungry families.
Now that's changed, thanks to a policy shift backed by South Bay school board member Richard Vladovic. Dozens of charities are receiving excess food that now gets redistributed to those in need.
The district's new food donation program is slowly expanding. Last week, Wilmington's Gulf Avenue Elementary School began its partnership with nearby Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church - the low-income port community's only source of free food for the poor.
It will be a huge boost to the church's poverty program, which mostly serves struggling parents with children, coordinator Esperanza Angellano said. With the weak economy and job market, the church has seen a spike in the number of requests for help, she said.
"Sometimes we don't have anything to give. Yesterday, we went to Costco and we bought beans and rice to give away," Angellano said. "This will help."
Last week, Angellano and a team from the church stopped by the Gulf Avenue cafeteria to pick up three coolers filled with milk cartons and dozens of servings of tortellini with butternut squash, cooked chicken and bread sticks.
"Every day this was getting trashed, just thrown away," Principal David Kooper said.
"It's a waste," Angellano responded. "A lot of people are hungry."
The "Healthy Students, Healthy Families and Healthy Communities" board resolution was approved in April. It directs LAUSD officials to work with nonprofits to pick up leftover food at no cost to the district.
"It's the right thing to do. We want to do it," said David Binkle, deputy director of the district's Food Services Division.
As of last count, more than 125 schools were donating food, though few of them are in the South Bay or Harbor Area. Many of the schools are in the San Fernando Valley, with donations going to AIDS Project L.A. or Jewish Family Services.
Locally, in addition to Gulf Avenue, participating campuses include Peary Middle and Rancho Dominguez Preparatory in the Carson area, Gardena High, San Pedro High, and Normont Elementary and Narbonne High in Harbor City.
The Harbor City schools were some of the first to sign on, Vladovic said. They donate to the Normont Terrace Coordinating Council, the nonprofit affiliated with the redeveloped low-income housing project now called Harbor Village.
The Los Angeles Unified School District serves some 650,000 meals per day at 1,000 locations, Binkle said. About a tenth of that would go to waste without the new donation program. That's because of federal nutrition requirements that students take, for example, both a banana and a carton of milk when they may only want one of those.
School staff members may encourage students to return unopened food to a common table so that it will be donated.
Only packaged food that has not been opened may be given to nonprofits, which must apply and submit to a district review before they obtains donations. Under county code and state law, food must be kept at safe temperatures and picked up no more than 30 minutes after lunch. Leftovers have to be given to an approved nonprofit agency; food cannot be directly donated to families in need.
"Everybody's worried about being sued while they're all trying to help," Vladovic said. "All I was saying is: Let's have a good Samaritan law with food."
His office worked with that of county Supervisor Don Knabe to ensure the program complied with county public health codes.
Vladovic said the food donations will serve two purposes - helping feed needy families and identifying menu offerings that students do not prefer.
"What they don't like, give it to somebody who can use it," he added. "There are so many hungry people."