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Tuesday, October 20, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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SFCC starts saving cafeteria leftovers in effort to curb hunger, food waste

Isidro Rojas, a student at Spokane Falls Community College, takes inventory at the campus food pantry on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Isidro Rojas, a student at Spokane Falls Community College, takes inventory at the campus food pantry on Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The food pantry at Spokane Falls Community College – a small room filled with fresh and nonperishable items in a corner of the Student Union Building – has provided for hungry students for at least 15 years.

But the school recently found new ways to address food insecurity, while also cutting down on waste.

This quarter, SFCC’s cafeteria has begun saving leftovers in single-serving trays, sealing them with plastic film and stocking them in a freezer in the food pantry, where any student who needs a meal can get one, free of charge.

The trays, which resemble the Lean Cuisine meals found in grocery stores, can be microwaved in minutes.

SFCC also is creating several “pop-up pantries” on campus where students and staff can drop off their own unwanted food, such as pieces of fruit and unopened bags of chips and granola bars.

Heather McKenzie, the school’s director of student-funded programs, said the idea behind the pop-up pantries is simple: “Take it if you need it. Leave it if you don’t.”

These initiatives were spearheaded by Josh Hechtman, an enterprising senior at Lewis and Clark High School who has also worked to reduce waste and fight hunger on his own campus.

Hechtman, who just turned 18, formed a student club called ReProduce 81 more than a year ago and has helped coordinate similar food-recovery efforts at Lewis and Clark, working with the district’s director of nutrition services.

“It’s just a really easy solution to such a big problem,” Hechtman said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates more than one-third of the country’s food is wasted, while hunger and food insecurity are rampant.

“A lot of people have enough food, (so) throwing away something doesn’t mean much to them,” Hechtman said. “They don’t think twice about it, whereas 1 in 5 children in Spokane do not know where their next meal is coming from.”

McKenzie, with SFCC, said she knows of many students who have struggled academically because they could not afford to eat every day.

Hundreds depend on the campus food pantry, where they can visit three times each quarter to fill up a 15-pound box of food. The school also partners with Second Harvest to host three free “farmers markets” each quarter; those are also open to faculty and staff.

In schools, Hechtman said, “Something thrown away to one person is another person’s meal, or another person’s snack to get them through the next class.”

Hechtman, who also plays football and tennis at Lewis and Clark, spent the summer as an intern for the Community Colleges of Spokane Foundation, a position sponsored by the Bank of America’s Student Leaders Program.

Heather Beebe-Stevens, the director for the CCS Foundation, said Hechtman helped devise the food-recovery plans, sought guidance from the state Department of Health and coordinated with the district’s food vendor, Sodexo.

Hechtman also helped secure donations of equipment and supplies, including a freezer, food trays and a heat-sealing machine for the plastic film. And a website he created, which will allow students to order pantry items for pickup ahead of time, should be operational in the near future, McKenzie said.

Hechtman said his work isn’t done. While no longer an intern, he is still working with CCS to establish a food pantry in a converted storage space at the district’s Adult Basic Education Center, and he hopes to expand his efforts to Spokane Community College.

When he attends college himself, Hechtman plans to study public policy. He said food has played a big part in how he bonds with family members, and he wants others to have good experiences around the dinner table.

“I’ve been lucky,” he said. “I haven’t had food insecurity myself, but I definitely know students who have, and I just know the impact it can have on people and relationships and forming your own identity.”

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