The Los Angeles Unified School District has offered up to 21,000 uneaten meals it has each day to nonprofit organizations that feed the hungry.
"We are very excited to have the opportunity to share," said Dennis Barrett, head of the district's food services. "We really don't want any food to go to waste."
Barrett outlined the program to about 75 agency representatives at a meeting last week. He said he expects that about 200 agencies eventually will want to take part.
"It's a phenomenal program. It's so forward-thinking," said Linda Hess, who runs Urban Harvester, which works to connect donors and organizations in need.
Avner Nishery of the Venice Food Bank said his organization — which feeds 276 families a month — can use school food.
"Our hearts are big, but the means are dwindling every day," said Osas Otasowie, community outreach specialist for the Mission City Community Network in Inglewood, who said her organization will try to find a way to collect the food to give to clients.
Nonprofit organizations that want the school food have been asked to fill out an application, including the campuses they might like as partners. Once food services makes a match, the organizations will work with cafeteria managers and are responsible for picking up the food and following all food safety regulations.
Officials said they hope pickups can start in a couple of weeks, but admit there could be some growing pains as they connect recipients to schools in the sprawling, 700-square-mile district. They also will work with recipients to deal with such issues as certain foods that can't be donated for medical or religious reasons.
David Binkle, deputy director of food services, told the nonprofits that the donations are the "right thing to do."
"It's our students that need it. It's our communities, our parents, our families that your organizations are serving," he said.
The district estimates that more than 13,000 students are homeless.
L.A. Unified serves 650,000 meals a day at about 1,000 locations. Leftovers can include packaged foods such as granola bars or cereal, entrees, fruit, vegetables and milk, Binkle said. The amount available will vary by school and by the day, from a few meals to perhaps 20, Barrett said.
Food is uneaten because cafeteria managers' estimates of how much they will need of a particular item don't always match consumption. In addition, the federal school lunch program sometimes requires more food to be served than a child wants to eat, Binkle said.
The idea for the program came from a resident who in February asked school board member Richard Vladovic why uneaten food was discarded, said Vladovic's chief of staff, David Kooper.
Kooper said the program probably will work best with neighborhood-based organizations.
Vladovic's office couldn't find other school districts to use as a model. The Los Angeles Board of Education approved the program last month.