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Jeffco’s food-share program starts thanks to Normandy student

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By Deborah Swearingen

Schools across Jefferson County now have the option to participate in a food-sharing program that hopes to combat food waste across the district.

The program allows students to dispose of prepackaged foods — such as bags of chips, applesauce containers and cups of cereal — as well as uneaten pieces of fruit. The food must be provided by the school and cannot be packed by a parent.

Schools will provide one basket for whole fruit and another for prepackaged items. This unused food is placed in the baskets on a food-share table and can be taken by other students who may still be hungry. Schools are required to post signage near the table with the rules and accepted food items.

This newly implemented program came about in part due to a push from a Normandy Elementary School fourth-grader and his mom.

After reading about food waste in a Scholastic News magazine, Preston Robertson, 9, teamed up with his classmate during an exercise called Genius Hour, which empowers students to explore their passions. Every day at lunchtime, he would stand by the cafeteria trash cans and collect uneaten and prepackaged foods. By the time lunch was over, fruit, applesauce cups, cartons of milk and bags of chips covered the table.

This was an eye-opener for Preston and his mom, Drea, who began contemplating ways to help prevent food waste at home and school. They pushed the district to enact a food-sharing program in an effort to repurpose much of the food that would otherwise go to waste.

Approximately 40 percent of edible food ends up in landfills and never reaches a plate, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. While Jeffco Public Schools doesn’t have any data demonstrating how much food it wastes as a district, school officials hope to do their part to help prevent it.

“That’s certainly important to us in food services,” said Jeremy West, director of operations for Jeffco’s food and nutrition services department. “We operate on a penny’s business, and it’s taxpayer money. So we want to do a good job on our end.”

When the Robertson family found out about the district’s decision, they were ecstatic.

“(Preston is) thrilled,” Drea said. “He’s over the moon.”

West said he’s been employed with the district since March and heard about Preston’s efforts fairly soon upon arrival. Though some schools in the district already had similar programs in place, West credited the fourth-grader with moving the process along and helping create a uniform program for all schools to use.

“It helped put it on our radar,” he said. “We always want students involved in the process.

“It wasn’t a student that was complaining about it. It was a student coming up with solutions,” West added.

While the program is optional, Normandy Elementary School will be participating. Principal Andrea Cosens expects the food-share table to be up and running within the week.

“It’s certainly exciting that Preston’s original idea inspired change,” she said in an e-mail.

Drea agreed, saying she’s impressed with her son’s impact and hopes to one day see a similar program in all Colorado schools.

“It’s really refreshing to see a young mind and a young idea have big change,” she said. “We’re definitely very grateful for Jefferson County schools to have responded the way that they have.”

Contact reporter Deborah Swearingen at dswearingen@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1042. Follow her on Twitter @djswearingen.