Carina Schusterman had a dream.
It was a nightmare, actually, and it involved thousands of tons of perfectly good pre-packaged food, unopened bottles of water, string cheese and untouched fruit being thrown out every day at her children’s elementary school.
Rather than hide under the covers and ignore the problem like most people would, she chose to do something about it.
Schusterman and a handful of volunteer moms from the Sanborn Elementary School worked with school administrators for nearly four years before they were successful at implementing the Zero Waste Program at the Sanborn school.
The nightmare has been vanquished. In its place, a dream has come true.
Now, all uneaten, pre-packaged food and bottled water is set aside in the cafeteria and donated to local needy families.
The program has been so successful, in fact, that since a story about the initiative ran in the Andover Townsman in March, it has been adopted by St. Augustine’s School, West and Doherty middle schools, High Plain Elementary and a middle school in North Andover.
Next year, according to public works officials, the Zero Waste program will be implemented in every school in the district, according to the town’s operations chief, Marc Fournier.
Meanwhile, interest is coming in from other communities as moms from Boxford and Tewksbury have been emailing Schusterman to see how they can start the program in their schools.
The program has not gone unnoticed.
The Andover school recently received an Award from the state department of Energy & Environment for Excellence in Energy and Environmental Education.
Schusterman and several other parent-volunteers from Sanborn Elementary School were recognized at the Statehouse for the Zero Waste program.
Carina, along with parents Claire Stocker, Selen Aktar, Brad Weeden and Andover High School student Grace Bentley, 17, attended the Statehouse ceremony on behalf of the 40 or so parents who volunteer each week during Sanborn’s lunch period.
During another ceremony Monday at the school, state Sen. Barbara L’Italien, D-Andover, presented Sanborn Elementary School parents and students a citation for winning the state environmental ward.
Awards and speeches aside, it is amazing what one group of dedicated people can achieve. It seems like such an obvious problem: food going to waste at a school cafeteria. It’s been going on for generations. But it takes someone with a sense of outrage and fortitude to turn that into a workable idea.
Rather than complain about it, Schusterman and other parents dug in and did something about it, helping solve at least two problems in the process. There is now less wasted food and packaging going to area landfills, and there is more nutrition going into the stomachs of needy families.
According to a story by Townsman reporter Gabriella Cruz earlier this year, the program was made possible by a change in federal law.
In 2011, the Good Samaritan Food Donation Act was passed, allowing school cafeterias to donate uneaten food rather than throw it away. Not many people are aware of this law, Schusterman said, so getting the schools and town on board with her plan wasn’t easy.
“It was about six months of asking everyone to get involved, and took a year to get former superintendent (Marinel) McGrath on board,” Schusterman said. “It took three years to get all of the permits, approvals, guidelines in place and get enough parents involved to make the Zero Waste program a reality.”
If there were more moms in the world like Carina Schusterman and her small army of volunteers, we probably could have solved world poverty by now. Maybe that can be their next project.