Extra food at local schools is going into the trash instead of the bellies of hungry students. A bill just filed in the Texas Legislature could change that. District 123 Rep. Diego Bernal wrote the bill after finding out how much untouched food schools threw away, and many school districts said they have his full support.
The school cafeteria is a place many educators believe is equally important to the classroom when it comes to learning.
"Hunger affects so many things. It affects their education. It affects their ability to concentrate. It affects their ability to socialize, and we see hunger in all of our schools," said Sharon Glosson, Northeast ISD school nutrition executive director.
Schools already have multiple meal programs in place, but Rep. Bernal noticed another opportunity while touring all 55 schools in his district over the last eight months.
He said in almost every school he visited, untouched and unopened food was thrown away every single day.
"An apple, an orange, a granola bar, that peel-top cereal, it's so much food," he said.
"We're throwing away a lot of milk. We're throwing away a lot of food," Glosson said. "Where we see a lot of waste is once the children take their food choices, if they decide not to open their milk and drink it, if they decide not to take a bite of their whole apple or their orange, we're not allowed to take that food back and redistribute it to other children. The food has to go in the trash."
She blames that on overlapping local, state and federal laws that have made it confusing for districts that don't want to get in trouble for giving the extra food to students. The bill Bernal filed Tuesday afternoon would allow them to do it without liability.
Bernal said the way the House Bill 367 works comes partially from a federal law called the Good Samaritan Act. That law allows schools to give leftover food to a nonprofit, like the food bank, without liability. Bernal worked off of that law to write his own bill.
"My bill says a district employee, meaning a teacher, custodian, principal, etcetera, can be a designee of a third-party nonprofit. So in other words, they can say, 'I'm putting on my food bank hat now.' So they become an agent of that nonprofit, which means they're then eligible to collect the food," Bernal said.
Bernal's bill allows schools to store the extra food on campus and give it out however they want, as long as they follow health codes.
"Each school might want to handle it differently, so having that local flexibility is really important," Glosson said.
Spokespeople from all three school districts represented in Bernal's district told KSAT they are thrilled about this bill. They all agree they hate throwing out food that could go to hungry kids.
"As long as the schools feel confident that they are not in violation, they will do more to help get that food to the kids who need it," Glosson said.
The districts hope Bernal will get full support in the Texas Legislature. The legislative session starts in January and lasts five months. Bernal hopes that by the end, his bill will be signed.
To see the whole bill, click here.
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