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Elijah’s Promise’s New Food Recovery Initiative Showing Strong Results So Far

Everybody has those one or two irritations with the food system that irks them. We’re disappointed with the amount of food wasted at grocery stores or restaurants at the end of the day, or perturbed by the seemingly nonsensical vilification of “ugly” or “imperfect” produce. At Elijah’s Promise, we are working hard to institutionalize the improvement of New Brunswick’s food system. Not only do we want to make sure that our solutions plug these food system pitfalls in our own anti-hunger programs, but that they are sustainably replicable across our community in order to impact overall food security.

Take, for example, the life of a half-pint carton of 1% milk. For decades, milk has been a staple in the public school cafeteria. Nevertheless, not every child in the United States is interested in drinking it. As a result, hundreds of pounds of milk are thrown away every week in every school in virtually every town in the country. While it is important to devise plans to get kids to drink milk when they are served it, or to reduce the frequency at which kids are served items they are not interested in consuming, these are still kids we are talking about. There will always be milks that get taken from the refrigerator and never drank.

That is why Elijah’s Promise has partnered with the New Brunswick Public Schools to implement a series of programs to ensure that as much of that milk, and all of the other food served daily, does not go to waste. The schools we work with have begun to use Share Tables in their cafeterias. With the full blessings of the USDA, tables can be set up in the cafeteria where students can drop off their unwanted, unopened food items such as milk, bags pre-portioned veggies, or whole fruits. Then, students who want more of that item can take them for themselves.

Share Tables alone can account for major reduction in food waste, but even still, they are not enough. So every day right when lunch ends, we pick up the leftover food and bring it back to our kitchen to be reused in our feeding programs. And when there is still milk leftover, we share it with other local food pantries. When there is still milk leftover from there, we convert it to cheese in our own kitchen to ensure that as little waste remains as possible.

There are still more holes in this system to plug. Sometimes milk spoils before we can use it. The cartons themselves still have to be thrown away, as we have no current reuse for them. When making cheese, the whey byproduct is dumped. Plus, milk is far from the only food product in excess that we receive from the schools. Each food has its own inherent challenges. The journey to tightening our food system is a constant learning process. Fortunately, we are not alone in this endeavor.

Not only do we have incredible partners at Rutgers University, Middlesex County, and the City of New Brunswick, but on July 18, nearly 100 supporters from across New Jersey came to a summit we co-hosted to learn about the relationship between food waste and food security and to devise plans together for addressing it in their towns and schools. Ultimately, we do not want the sole responsibility of improving our food system to lie on Elijah’s Promise. We want to empower everyone who has ever found themselves disappointed in the food system, and even those who have never considered it. With avid supporters all around us, assuredly New Brunswick’s and everybody’s food systems will improve.

About the Grantee

Elijah’s Promise

Elijah’s Promise harnesses the power of food to break the cycle of poverty, alleviate hunger, and change lives. We fight to end hunger through serving good food for all at our community soup kitchen, providing education and jobs in the food industry through our Promise Culinary School, a community garden, community advocacy, and creating social enterprise food businesses that further social good.