Marshall County Rep. Wes Kitchens has proposed a bill that would allow unused school food to be given to students at school who might need it. The Alabama Daily News first reported on it last week.
The idea is that a lot of school food goes unused that could help students who don't have much food at home. Federal law allows food to be donated to food banks and other charitable organizations. House Bill 566 would make it easier for food distribution to happen on school campuses and for food to be given directly to students.
“It makes me sick that there is food that goes into the dumpster every day and kids are going home hungry,” Kitchens, R-Arab, told the Alabama Daily News.
He said he learned about the food waste issue from his father, Brad Kitchens, an administrator at Arab City Schools.
“I saw a need, I saw how food was filling dumpsters,” Wes Kitchens said. He modeled his bill after similar bills in other states.
While his father made him aware of the issue, lots of other school administrators have shared similar stories.
House Bill 566 would allow local school boards to adopt policies for distributing free food for students to eat at home to those who qualify under federal guidelines for free or reduced lunch and breakfast.
“It’s not something schools are required to do,” Kitchens said. “Each school can adopt its own policy.”
Schools could donate food to charitable organizations through an organization official who is also a school employee or parent of a student.
“The donated food may be received, stored and distributed at the school,” according to the bill.
School employees can act as volunteers of the charitable organization. School officials are already lauding the bill.
“I think it’s a marvelous idea, I hope school systems take part in it,” Limestone County Schools Superintendent Tom Sisk said after discussing the bill with lawmakers in Montgomery.
His system already participates in the Full Tummy Project with the local Rotary Club. Students identified as being in need are given backpacks full of food on Friday afternoons to help get them through the weekend. Some of the food is donated from outside the school, but some is leftover from school meals. Schools also have snack tables, where discarded items are available to any student who wants them.
Rep. Parker Moore, R-Decatur, is a co-sponsor on the bill.
“Schools can’t always plan accurately, whatever is leftover, there is no sense in it going to waste if it can be given to people who need it,” Moore said.
In 2016, about 236,000, or 22 percent, of Alabama children were living in “food insecure” homes where there was an uncertainty of having enough food, according to the Kids Count Databook that tracks factors related to children’s wellbeing.
"The bill to allow schools to give unused food to students in need failed to make it to a vote," Kitchens said. "Two house members decided their own personal interests and political ambitions were more important than the 40 bills we had on the calendar. Bills that would make Alabama a better place failed because of selfishness and political grandstanding. While I am not happy with the way things unfolded, that is part of the process and I plan to pre file this bill for the next legislative session."
On Thursday, the bill passed. According to Kitchens it has only passed the house and still has to go through the senate. He said that if the bill passes and only helps one student it would be worth it. This bill is expected to help half a million students in Alabama receive meals.
The bill passed unanimously with a vote of 101-0. Each member of the House has co-sponsored the bill.
Kitchens said that schools have lots of waste although they try not to throw too much away. He said that if this bill passes, this would allow the lunch room to give food to the students as needed any time the lunchroom is in use. He said that this would include the summer programs.
After talks with his father and other child nutritionist in the local community, they came up with this solution and helped to craft the bill.
The bill should go to the Senate today, but it could be as late as Friday before it is actually heard. Kitchens said Sen. Clay Scofield has pledged to help him once the bill gets to the Senate.