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New legislation allows Texas schools to create on-campus pantries

Texas schools can now host food pantries on campus that will store donated food as well as surplus food from the cafeteria.

Schools across the state of Texas now have the unique ability to get leftover food into the hands of students outside of the cafeterias. They can do so by creating food pantries on campus where they can store and distribute donated food as well as surplus food from the cafeteria. 

Senate Bill 725, authored by state Sen. Borris Miles, D-Houston, became effective immediately after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the legislation in June. 

Since 2011, federal law has allowed school districts to donate leftover food to nonprofits free of liability as long as they follow health and safety codes. But SB725 creates a loophole that allows the schools to keep their leftover packaged food and produce for distribution on campus. They simply donate the food to themselves.

Each school must first name one of its employees—an assistant principal, a librarian, a teacher or an admin, for example—as the designee of a third-party nonprofit. Then the school can collect the leftover food and distribute it on campus. 

As one of the bill’s biggest proponents, Jenny Arredondo, senior executive director of child nutrition services for San Antonio Independent School District (SAISD), sees SB725 as an incredible opportunity for the community. 

“From the start, my position has been that child nutrition programs are doing a fantastic job during the school day,” she says. “But hunger exists after school, on weekends and on holidays. Our job is to feed kids and we have a responsibility to look beyond the typical parameters and help in any way we can.” 

After the bill passed, SAISD presented the idea to its administration and 11 schools within the district came forward with interest in opening a pantry of their own. 

“Before we can open a pantry, we need to make sure we are following all the local health department guidelines for safety and sanitation,” she says. “There’s also some training that we need to do.” 

The pantry, which will be a collaboration between each school and child nutrition services (CNS), can accept certain allowable food items per CNS. This includes whole, uncut fruit and non-perishable packaged foods.

“Let’s say we have 40 ripe leftover pears on a Friday,” says Arredondo. “They might not make it until Monday, so we can go to our point of contact at the school and donate the fruit to them. Once it’s in the hands of the school, they can distribute it as they see necessary.”

The intent is to serve students first. 

“This will help CNS to reduce waste, but we will not be the only contributor to the pantries,” says Arredondo. “We have a responsibility to manage our inventory properly. By putting the pantries in the hands of the schools, they can work with other programs in addition to CNS to build their stock.”

SAISD is days away from opening their first pantry, but Arredondo sees this as only a start.

“My ultimate goal is to have a pantry in each school,” she says. “Especially in the ones where the need is greatest.”

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