No matter how well cafeteria staff plan the day's menu, there will likely be leftover food at the end of the meal. Some of that food will still be closed in its original container, but before, much of that food was discarded.
Now, every school in Cumberland County is offering a community table where leftover, unopened foods and whole fruits, like bananas, are offered to other students who may want a little extra.
"Everyone has jumped on board really quick," said Kathy Hamby, supervisor of the Cumberland County School Nutrition Program.
Since classes resumed in January, every school has established a community table in the cafeteria.
"We have the things leftover from breakfast out at lunch for those who want extra," explained Tressie Smith, cafeteria manager at Martin Elementary School.
Teacher's assistants monitor the lunchroom and bring the cart of unopened milk cartons and juice boxes and fresh fruit leftover from the morning breakfast. Martin is one of three schools participating in a universal breakfast program and students eat breakfast in the classroom. Teachers have the unopened items collected and saved for lunch or keep items that do not need to be kept cool in the classroom for snacks.
"It's really helped in the pre-K classes," Smith said. "That way they don't have to depend on parents who might forget to send snacks or have trouble affording it."
It also provides a little extra food for those who are hungry, especially the older kids.
"I don't think you can fill them up," Smith laughed.
It's also good for those who might want a little extra but don't have the money to buy it à la carte.
The idea was brought up in December by 5th District BOE Representative Don Hassler, who had attended a presentation at the Tennessee School Boards Association meeting that told of another school system in the state collecting this food. While regulations prohibit food being brought back into the kitchen once it has been served, there are no prohibitions against redistributing that excess food. He encouraged the Cumberland County district to explore establishing a similar program.
Hamby found there were already a few schools offering a community table, such as Homestead Elementary. Each school has made use of the equipment available to provide a place outside of the kitchen area for keeping refrigerated foods cooled, such as South Cumberland repurposing an unused salad bar serving station or an extra cooler in the lunch room at Brown Elementary.