By Guest Blogger Karen Brudnak
When Guilford County School’s students walk into school this month, many will see something new: a refrigerator. Why? These refrigerators are the county’s newest tool in fighting childhood hunger.
According to GCS data, nearly 63% of students live in poverty. For too many of these students, that means they can’t count on a nutritious meal each night. But through the new SHARE program, a partnership between Guilford County Schools and local nonprofit A Simple Gesture, a new—free—source of food is available to students. Here’s how it works:
- Students receive their school-prepared breakfasts and lunches as usual.
- Any item that is unopened or unpeeled and that a student doesn’t want is placed in the SHARE refrigerator.
- Other students can take items from the SHARE refrigerator, no questions asked.
“Before SHARE, much of this food ended up in the trash,” says Laura Oxner, director of A Simple Gesture Food Recovery. “Now there is a safe and convenient way to store excess cafeteria food for later consumption. Unopened packets of carrots, cartons of milk and other beverages, unpeeled apples and oranges, all of these items can now go in the SHARE refrigerator.”
The SHARE program initially started in 19 Guilford County schools in 2022-2023 before rolling it out to the entire district. Refrigerators are being installed in schools starting in mid-August, with a goal to have all refrigerators ready before the first day of school on the traditional calendar. A Simple Gesture purchased 85 refrigerators with funding from generous donors.
No Grumbling Tummies
Students need an extra snack for lots of reasons—arriving at school after the window for breakfast or lunch, still being hungry after eating their cafeteria lunch, needing a snack when they stay after school for sports or activities, or living in a food-insecure home. “Anytime a child is hungry, no matter what the reason, this food will be available to them,” says A Simple Gesture President & COO Leslie Loyd. “Kids can help themselves, no questions asked.”
When students come to school hungry, they aren’t able to reach their potential, Loyd explains. Research shows that children who experience hunger are more likely to:
- have difficulty with concentration, coping skills, and anger management
- experience higher rates of depression and more behavior issues
- miss more school, have lower test scores, and be more likely to drop out
- be sick more often and end up hospitalized
- have lower lifetime incomes and higher rates of incarceration
“When a child doesn’t eat for one day, it takes another 2 ½ days for their brains to be able to absorb new material,” Loyd says. “Kids who are hungry struggle to learn.”
Tons of Food Won’t Go to Waste
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 30% to 40% of our food is wasted. Based on SHARE program pilot testing, A Simple Gesture estimates that well over 1 million pounds of food has the potential of redirection during a school year. Early results show that about 50 pounds of leftover food is saved daily. With 126 schools in the GCS district, that’s 1,000 pounds of food per month at each school and 126,000 pounds of food across the district every month.
A Simple Gesture will be offering free food waste educational activities for schools to teach students about this important topic and regular updates on the SHARE program’s impact. “Guilford County Schools are breaking new ground here,” Oxner says. “We’re looking to make this a model for other districts to implement as well. Food is a valuable resource, and with the SHARE program we are treating it as such. ‘Feeding not wasting’ is a mission we strive for and one that makes sense for all of us, especially our youth.”
To learn more about the SHARE program, visit asimplegesturegso.org/s-h-a-r-e-program.