When schoolchildren split for the winter holiday each year, cafeteria staff have traditionally had to gather up the food that will spoil over the break and toss it out with the garbage.
Two years ago, however, Portland Public Schools began participating in Metro's Fork It Over program, which collects such perishable goods from individual businesses and school districts and gives it to the needy.
'It's like if you're going on vacation and you want to clear out your fridge of what won't last,' said Nancy Bond, the school district's resource conservation specialist. 'It's really a balancing act trying to order the precise amount they need to serve 500 kids every day of the week, and at the end of the week end up with one grocery bag left over. This just gathers up those individual bits.'
Bond said about 75 to 80 of the district's 90 schools usually have leftover food to donate at least four times a year, just before Thanksgiving, the winter break, spring break and summer vacation.
In addition, the district's central kitchen, based in the Blanchard Education Service Center, donates its leftover food each week. The district donated a total of 1,399 pounds of food just before Thanksgiving, and has another collection set for today. In all, the district has donated a total of 81,490 pounds through the program since 2004.
Instead of going into landfills, the food goes to feed the hungry.
'There's a lot of seniors out there that don't get much money a month,' said Edna Ford, who runs Generous Ventures, a Southeast Portland-based food warehouse for seniors and low-income families. 'They really need our assistance.'
Charles Ashcroft, who oversees the St. Vincent de Paul cafe in Southeast Portland, said his organization picked up 300 pounds of food from the school district just before Thanksgiving - everything from milk and orange juice to salad mix and peanut butter sandwiches, all of which his clients are grateful to get.
The other organizations that receive food from the school district include Janus Youth Programs, Portland Rescue Mission, New Avenues for Youth and Blanchet House.
Bond said the school district got involved after hearing that both the Oregon and federal Good Samaritan laws protect donors from liability if they give away food believing it to be in good condition.
Jennifer Erickson, a senior planner at Metro who runs Fork It Over, said that besides Portland Public Schools, there are currently 70 businesses signed on as donors. She'd like to boost that number over the next five years by doing more outreach.
She said that Metro will renew the program's message, revisit partnerships, continue advertising in various publications and strengthen the program's Web site to let donors track the course of their donations.
Fork It Over