There’s one impact of the nine school snow days this winter that you may not have thought of: wasted food.
Portland Public Schools had to throw out or donate $42,249 worth of school lunches and breakfasts as a result of the unusually frequent and intense snow and ice storms this year.
The loss to the school district is permanent. The federal government typically picks up much of the cost of school nutrition programs, but does not reimburse districts for food that wasn’t served to school children.
“The department will have to take the loss,” says Gitta Grether-Sweeney, director of PPS Nutrition Services department. Nutrition Services is a self-funded department, she says. “It won’t impact the (district’s) general fund.”
Grether-Sweeney says the district tries to donate as much as it can to food pantries nearby, although that was difficult when volunteers couldn’t get around on icy streets. The district is still compiling data from its 85 school sites to figure out how many pounds of food were donated.
Most food is cooked the day it is served, so was kept frozen, refrigerated or stored.
“If there is food that we can safely reuse, we’ll store that in our cooler or freezer,” Grether-Sweeney says.
But uncooked food that was thawed for the next days’ meals, such as pizza, had to be thrown out. Fresh produce could be donated, if that occurred in time.
“Going into a break, we already donate any fresh produce that we have,” says Nutrition Services Assistant Director Whitney Ellersick.
Ellersick notes that there were some complaints when the menu changed from what had been planned, but that was just the district trying to use up what it had.
The district serves about 10,000 breakfasts per day and 20,000 lunches. The federal government reimburses districts at different amounts depending on whether the meal is paid for, free or reduced-price.
Volunteers connected to schools may want to think of that the next time inclement weather strikes, or even ahead of the coming spring break. Some of the places Portland’s school food ends up include: Urban Gleaners, Generous Ventures, Golden Harvesters, United Mission, Neighborhood House, Potluck in the Park, Birch Community Services and Reach Community Development.