DAVID GREENE, HOST:
The holidays can feel like the time to donate to a food bank. You want to help, of course. But here's the reality - some food pantries don't want the foods people are giving. Here's NPR's Allison Aubrey
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Every Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m., Therese Dyer-Caplan opens the doors of the McLean Baptist Church in Fairfax County, Va., and welcomes in a line of hungry people. The bright sun shone through the stained glass that lit up the sanctuary. Therese ushered us down a flight of stairs into the food pantry.
THERESE DYER-CAPLAN: We're just like a little mini grocery store. When you come in, these are very nice quality items. And, of course, everything here is donated.
AUBREY: There's a spread of fresh fruits, meats, cheeses, yogurts and a whole table filled with loaves of whole grain bread.
DYER-CAPLAN: And they're fresh. I mean, if you feel them, they're perfectly fresh.
AUBREY: Now, it hasn't always been this way. Food pantries used to be thought of as a repository for things nobody else wanted. So when grocery stores had a glut of sweets they could not sell they'd call Dyer-Caplan to take it.
DYER-CAPLAN: We've gotten calls from grocery stores saying, we have 100 cupcakes and sheet cakes; will you take them? The answer is no.
AUBREY: Dyer-Caplan says she realized several years ago that if she filled the whole food pantry with these kinds of empty calories full of sugar nobody needs, it would be a disservice, especially given the shift she's seen over the years in the families who come here.
DYER-CAPLAN: Well, you can see it firsthand. You can see that children are heavier. They're hungry, but they're heavy.
AUBREY: With this in mind, Dyer-Caplan started looking for new kinds of donations. Who had nutritious foods they'd be willing to donate? It turns out the answer was almost staring her in the face. Right across the street at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School, lots of perfectly good food was being tossed out.
DAVID DUGGAL: We have, like, bananas, yogurt, apple, one milk carton, a peanut butter sandwich and a cheese stick.
AUBREY: That's sixth grader David Duggal listing all of the foods that the kids at his lunch table leave on their trays and don't eat.
NICOLA HOPPER: All of it got thrown in the trash.
LEXI RETTY: So it honestly all just got piled up in a garbage dump.
NICOLA: That's Nicola hopper and Lexi Retty (ph). They say there are lots of reasons the kids don't eat everything on their trays. They either pack too much, don't like what the cafeteria serves or this excuse...
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: I didn't have time to eat.
AUBREY: When the school tallied up all of the unopened, uneaten food in the cafeteria, turns out to be about a hundred pounds every week. That's more than 3,000 pounds a year.
DAVID: I thought, wow, that is a lot of food we didn't eat.
AUBREY: Now, at the same time that the food pantry was seeking out more nutritious foods, a mom in the Fairfax County school district named Kathleen Dietrich decided to do something about all this waste in schools.
KATHLEEN DIETRICH: It was a mountain of food, and it had to be tossed out. That was the regulation.
AUBREY: Dietrich says, for food safety reasons, most school cafeterias don't allow food that's been purchased to be returned to the line. So in order to salvage all of it, Dietrich arranged to buy extra refrigerators and store it. Now, every Friday, the kids at Franklin Sherman hall everything they've collected over to the food pantry.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: I feel like I'm helping people who really, really need it.
AUBREY: Dyer-Caplan at the food pantry says the donations are a godsend.
DYER-CAPLAN: Oh, my goodness. We're so grateful, and the clients are so grateful.
AUBREY: And the model is spreading. Kathleen Dietrich founded an organization called Food Bus that now salvages the wasted bounty from school cafeterias in more than 40 schools across the country. Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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