The child food insecurity rate, or the number of children who are hungry, is 19.3 percent in Iowa. Hunger impacts children causing anxiety and stress, putting them at a greater risk for negative child behaviors, affecting their development and academic achievement as well as their social and emotional well-being. Childhood hunger has been directly linked to poor health outcomes and has been proven to have negative health effects even decades later.
Des Moines Public Schools (DMPS) is working hard to make sure it’s students are not going hungry during the school day. Starting in the fall of 2014, the DMPS Food and Nutrition Department began partnering with school nurses across the district to implement a volunteer food rescue program. Food rescuing is the reclaiming of unused and unopened food from the school breakfast and lunch program that would have otherwise been discarded.
Participating schools worked with Food Corp members to develop morning announcements and video tutorials explaining the food rescue program to students. Special “no thank you” bins are set up near the tray return so that students can donate prepackaged, unopened food left on their tray. The school nurse collects the food each day and distributes it to students that come to the office with stomach aches, hungry, or needing to take medicine. Additional food is sent home daily with the school’s backpack program.
In May 2015, DMPS collected 426 cereal bowls, 588 packages of graham crackers, 206 applesauce cups, and 209 apple juice boxes. All were repurposed to hungry students in the Des Moines Public School District. In addition to feeding hungry students, the nutrition center staff can track what kids actually consume. DMPS uses this information to identify student food preferences and modify future menus.
The No Thank You Box program started last fall in four elementary schools and quickly expanded to include 12 schools, encompassing all grade levels, by the end of the 2014-2015 school year. The response has been positive with additional food rescue programs beginning this fall and hopefully more in the future.
**Special thanks to Des Moines Public Schools for providing picture and article content