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Project GLEAN: implementing a school-based food distribution program.

Feeding one's family is a basic human necessity, but many people in the United States still do not have adequate access to nutritious foods. Up to 600,000 American households experienced hunger each day in 2000 (Hampl & Hall 2002; Nord et al., 2002); households with children, especially those headed by single parents, were most likely to experience both hunger and food insecurity (e.g., their diets are nutritionally inadequate; they have limited access to nutritious food). While no racial or ethnic group is exempt from hunger, data indicate that Hispanics' diets are 200 percent more likely to be food insecure than are those of non-Hispanics (American Dietetic Association, 1998).

America's hunger issues are not caused by insufficient resources; in fact, the nation's food supply, in aggregate, could provide the equivalent of about 3,800 calories per person each day (Kantor, Lipton, Manchester, & Oliveira, 1997). Each year, however, consumers and food service personnel are responsible for 91 billion pounds of wasted food, accounting for 26 percent of the edible food supply (Kantor et al., 1997). If the food that is wasted each year could find its way into the homes of those families experiencing food insecurity and hunger, the number of hungry people in the United States might decrease.

Many programs have been implemented to help relieve hunger and food insecurity in the United States, but gleaning shows particular promise by decreasing the amount of food wasted. The practice of gleaning dates back to biblical times, when farmers would first harvest what they believed was worth selling (Office of Nutrition Services, Bureau of Community and Family Health Services, 2000). Following with societal tradition, farmers would leave behind a portion of their crops, which would be collected later by the less fortunate. Today's practice of gleaning has evolved; not only is surplus produce taken home directly from the field, but it also is collected and sent to local food banks for distribution to food pantries and schools.

Program Description

Three years ago, Project GLEAN (Gaining Leverage and Empowerment Through Adequate Nutrition began as a partnership between university, a food bank, and a K-8 elementary school. This school was selected because all of the students were eligible for free lunches and breakfasts from the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs; in addition, faculty and staff at this school reported that the students were underfed at home, leading to illness and inattentiveness during class time. The majority of students at this school are Hispanic.

In Project GLEAN, pre-determined Wednesdays and Fridays are scheduled for food distribution, based upon the elementary school's calendar. Our preference has been for Fridays, so that the students could have access to healthful foods over the weekend when school breakfasts and lunches are not available; however, the partnering food bank prefers to alternate between Wednesdays and Fridays, in order to ease demands on its schedule. During the morning of the pre-determined dates, the food bank delivers pallets of bread and fresh vegetables and fruits to the school cafeteria. Then, volunteers from the university and a 5th-grade class from the elementary school set up in an assembly-line fashion to fill bags, donated by local grocery stores, with the food. Before the bagging process begins, the project coordinator checks with a school administrator to determine the day's attendance so enough bags can be prepared with an even distribution of the food.

"Double bagging" for sturdiness, the volunteers walk the bags to stations set up for each food, where another volunteer drops vegetables, fruit, or bread into the bags. If the quantity of a particular food allows for more than one item per bag, then as much as can be evenly divided is placed in each bag. Bags are then tied off and placed to the side to await student pick-up.

Classes come to the cafeteria according to their bus-pick-up schedule. Each student picks up one bag before boarding the school bus or walking home. If enough food is brought by the food bank, students have the option of taking more than one bag home, and/or parents can come to the cafeteria after the initial distribution and take extra bags home. Any bags left over are distributed to school staff and faculty.


As Table 1 indicates, Project GLEAN succeeded in distributing nearly 55 tons of food--food that otherwise would have been wasted--over the past two years. Through the project collaboration, low-income children have the opportunity to reduce food insecurity in their households. Since the students and other volunteers accomplish most of the work a sense of community pride is fostered. Parents tell us that the greatest benefit of the program is that they can stretch their food-buying dollars, improving their families' fiscal and nutritional welfare. In addition, Project GLEAN operates at no cost to the elementary school. The food bank provides the food and bags without charge, and student volunteers from the university and elementary school bag the food.

As a cautionary note, we must report that fresh fruits and vegetables can become ammunition in the eyes of elementary schoolchildren. In a few isolated incidents, food was thrown instead of bagged; the school's administration--as a partner in this project--helped to keep order. Another obstacle emerged involving the preparation of the food once it was brought home. Many parents were unsure of how to prepare some of the fresh vegetables, such as eggplant and some squashes. Consequently, we added another component to Project GLEAN--teaching children how to prepare unfamiliar foods in their Life Skills coursework.

Next Steps

We have seen a need to begin distributing recipe cards with the bags so that parents can keep them as a resource. These recipes would call for a limited number of affordable and readily available ingredients. Through all these efforts, we hope to further improve the nutritional status of the school community.
Table 1
Pounds of Fruits, Vegetables,
and Bread Distributed Through Project
GLEAN, in pounds


Acorn squash 8,713
Artichoke 1,595
Asparagus 2,209
Bell pepper 7,453
Bread 7,187
Broccoli 2,490
Butternut squash 2,932
Cabbage 6,741
Cantaloupe 7,064
Celery 3,764
Cucumber 4,274
Eggplant 2,754
Grapefruit 4,728
Lemon 1,457
Lettuce (romaine) 1,942
Onion 5,693
Orange 2,009
Pear 1,500
Potato 13,068
Salad mix 1,534
Squash 3,183
Tangerine 1,704
Tomato 12,965
Turnip 1,111
Zucchini 1,674

TOTAL 109,744


American Dietetic Association. (1998). Position of the American Dietetic Association: Domestic food and nutrition security. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 98(3), 337-342.

Hampl, J. S., & Hall, R. (2002). Dietetic approaches to U.S. hunger and food insecurity. Journal o/the American Dietetic Association, 102(7), 919-923.

Kantor, L. S., Lipton, K., Manchester, A., & Oliveira, V. (1997). Estimating and addressing America's food losses. Food Review, 18(1), 2-12.

Nord, M., Kabbani, N., Tiehen, L., Andrews, M., Bickel, G. & Carlson, S. (2002). Measuring food security in the United States. Household food security in the United States, 2000. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food Assistance and Nutrition Research Report No. 21

Office of Nutrition Services, Bureau of Community and Family Health Services. (2000), A gleaning guide for schools: An innovative way to encourage better nutrition for students. Phoenix, AZ: Arizona Department of Health Services.

Stephanie A. Moya is a Graduate Student and Jeffrey S Hampl is Associate Professor, Department of Nutrition, Arizona State University, Mesa.
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Title Annotation:For Parents Particularly; Gaining Leverage and Empowerment Through Adequate Nutrition; Gaining Leverage and Empowerment Through Adequate Nutrition
Author:Hampl, Jeffrey S
Publication:Childhood Education
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2003
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