NEW PALESTINE — Students at one local school are learning lessons about serving their community — while eating breakfast.

Students in the Before and After School YMCA program at Sugar Creek Elementary teamed up with student council members to come up with a food donation program where any food not eaten during the YMCA program breakfast would be donated to the Hancock County Food Pantry.

Sylvia Robles, YMCA site director, helped the students set up a food recovery program called Food Rescue through the Indiana Department of Education and the Indiana State Department of Health to share uneaten food with community members in need.

The national program, in more than 500 schools across the United States, aims to end the practice of food waste in America, according to the program’s website. Sugar Creek Elementary, whose YMCA program served about 100 students before and after school during the 2016-17 school year, is the first school in the Community School Corp. of Southern Hancock County to implement the program, Robles said.

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During this past school year, the students and their advisors started collecting about 60 unused breakfast items per day, including muffins and milk, officials said. Sixth-graders in the student council took turns collecting and storing the food, said Greg Nicholson, the teacher who leads the student council.

“We are trying to make the student body understand that food is being wasted, and that there is an alternative to simply throwing it in the garbage,” Nicholson said.

Each morning the YMCA students set out the food bins and then after breakfast, which 140 students have in class, student council members picked the food up and stored it in Robles’ office.

The students involved said they felt good about not wasting good food anymore.

“I always notice how when we’re eating at school a lot of people throw away perfectly good apples and oranges and things that are unopened,” said Chase Redmon, a fifth-grader.

Bob Mitchell, a volunteer from the Hancock County Food Pantry, came by the school every Thursday morning and collected the food.

Mitchell, a former educator, thought the Food Rescue program in the school was a great idea.

“They wanted to do this to get the kids thinking about how this is a way we give to those in need,” Mitchell, a New Palestine resident, said. “That’s exactly what we need to be doing in the schools.”

While the amount donated so far is small compared to the pantry’s largest donors, it has been appreciated, Mitchell said. He and his wife work at the pantry each Monday and notice what the school donated was off the shelf within minutes.

It’s the type of message the students enjoyed hearing.

“I like that we’re helping out people,” said Edie Schwarb, sixth-grader. “While it may seem small, we know to a lot of people who need help, it’s a big deal.”

The program was such a success, school officials have decided to expand the food rescue donations next year to include the lunch program where more than 800 kids eat each day.

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Kristy Deer is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3262 or kdeer@greenfieldreporter.com.