Local students are doing their part to ease the hunger pangs felt by other children.

Across the 11,575-student Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp., 44 percent — about 5,000 — came from families eligible for free or reduced-price lunches based on family income in 2015.

As part of a collaboration between Love Chapel and the school district’s food services operation, BCSC schools introduced “No Thank You” tables, which starting with the fall semester has allowed students to donate their unwanted food items to local children and families in need.

So far, BCSC students already have donated nearly 2,000 pounds of food to families in financial need, said Nancy Millspaugh, BCSC food services director.

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“That’s a ton of food in one semester that we put back in the community,” Millspaugh said.

All BCSC students are required to take at least one fruit and vegetable for a standard meal plate, a fact that often brings chagrin to younger students who would rather eat a cookie than a carrot.

When a child does not want the food a cafeteria provides at lunch or breakfast, it usually lands in the trash can, completely untouched, Millspaugh said.

“That’s upsetting,” Millspaugh said.

After attending a recent Indiana State Nutrition Association conference, Millspaugh learned that health officials had eased restrictions on sharing food among students — and inspiration hit.

“I thought it would be a great idea to bring the food back to our community,” Millspaugh said.

When BCSC students do not want parts of their breakfast or lunch, the first step in the donation process is to put their uneaten items on the No Thank You table.

Milk, juice, cereal and yogurt are the most commonly discarded items, along with various fruits and vegetables, Millspaugh said.

Once they have given away all of their unwanted food, students have a chance to glean seconds for themselves from the items their peers tossed off.

“Everybody runs for the milk,” said Solomon Hall, a fourth grade student at Columbus Signature Academy-Lincoln campus.

Although BCSC students are served a wholesome meal at school, healthy foods might not be available for every child once the school day ends.

That’s why Millspaugh allows students to pick seconds for themselves off the No Thank You table before donating the food to local pantries.

“There might be students in sports or who have hunger issues, so there are a lot of reasons they might want additional food,” she said.

Like his peers, Solomon said he likes to take an extra carton of milk off the table, as well as any vegetables his classmates leave behind.

After the students have had their fill, the remaining food is wheeled away and prepared for donation.

Columbus East and North high schools each have their own food pantries, which make donated food available to the general public. But BCSC elementary and middle schools donate their unwanted items to Love Chapel meal programs.

“It’s great,” said Elizabeth Kestler, Love Chapel director. “We pick up a couple times a week and receive an abundance of items.”

Love Chapel uses the food it receives from BCSC in its food pantry and Wednesday night hot-meal program, which benefits more than 1,000 local residents a month, Kestler said.

“We have more people coming in, and they can have all and any of the food we receive,” she said.

Love Chapel especially benefits from milk donations, as milk can be costly when purchased in large quantities, Kestler said.

At the end of the fall semester, students were donating an average of 53 gallons of milk per week.

Even though they are giving up food that would not normally be appetizing to them, BCSC students say they know that somewhere in Bartholomew County, another child will gobble up the opportunity to enjoy fresh food they otherwise might never get to eat.

“It’s nice to help kids,” Solomon said.

How the table works

Step 1: Students go through the lunch line and pick up at least one fruit and one vegetable.

Step 2: Students put the items they do not want to eat on the “No Thank You” table.

Step 3: Students have the chance to take food their peers did not want off of the seconds table for themselves.

Step 4: The remaining food is donated to Love Chapel.

How much is donated

During the fall 2015 semester, BCSC students donated 1,963 pounds of uneaten food items to children and families in need, with an average of 53 gallons of milk donated per week. Love Chapel uses that food for its pantry, which serves about 1,200 people a month, and its Wednesday night hot meal program, which serves about 200 people a month. Those numbers don’t include the additional food BCSC students pick up for themselves before it is donated.

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Olivia Covington is a reporter for The Republic. She can be reached at ocovington@therepublic.com or 812-379-5712.