BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — So-called "share tables" are allowing students in Bismarck-Mandan schools to return unwanted food so it can be used to feed the hungry.

It's part of an effort to eliminate waste in the federal school lunch program by the U.S. Agriculture Department, which offers free and reduced-price lunches to students.

Students can place prepackaged, wrapped food items and beverages on the designated "share table." These items are then reused or donated to a local food bank, the Bismarck Tribune reported .

Mandan Public Schools started using share tables last month and Bismarck Public Schools have been participating in the effort since last school year. In Mandan, five elementary schools have a share table. In Bismarck, 16 elementary schools have the tables and the district plans to implement the initiative in all elementary schools by next school year.

The Mandan school district donates its leftover food to Spirit of Life Roman Catholic Church, which distributes food to needy families in the area.

Mari Jo Sigl, outreach ministry coordinator for the Spirit of Life church, said the schools' leftovers help about 50 people a week.

"It's absolutely amazing, because every day they don't know how many kids are going to eat," Sigl said. "I would feel that (the schools) are happier to see that it's going to go to probably some of the very same families that eat at school lunch."

The student council at Fort Lincoln Elementary School in Mandan requested a share table during the same time that the district was considering the initiative.

Blaine Hoff, a fourth-grader and student council member, said, "Kids, they just dump the whole plate in the garbage. I think they shouldn't waste it."


Information from: Bismarck Tribune,