AP NEWS

Finding a use for milk tossed by students

May 1, 2019

It looked like Brenda Martin would have a pretty good haul that day. The ice chest in the cafeteria at Katy Elementary School was filled to the brim with more than a dozen cartons of milk and an equal number of packaged food items.

In just a few minutes, it would all be in the large, walk-in freezer at nearby Katy Christian Ministries.

“It’s amazing. Generally, it’s the only milk we have to offer our clients,” said Holly Havlick, who runs the food bank for KCM. “It’s beautiful that people are literally feeding their next door neighbors.”

Katy Elementary is one of only five schools — four elementary campuses and a junior high — within the Katy Independent School District that currently participate in a little-known program called “Milk 4 Many” that finds a second-life for certain food products that students don’t want during that lunch period. Although only a handful of schools take part, it still provided 6.5 tons of milk, juice and food to the KCM food bank during the first quarter of 2019 alone, said Martin, a gregarious volunteer and occasional substitute teacher at Katy Elementary known to all there as “Mamaw.”

“It’s just the most incredible program. But, I’m thinking a lot of schools don’t even know they have this opportunity,” she said.

Martin would like to see more Katy ISD schools take part in the program. She made an appeal to the Katy ISD Board of Trustees, some of whom seemed unaware of its existence.

Katy ISD Superintendent Ken Gregorski said his staff would be looking into the program.

“I’ll have to get with our child nutrition department and see what we can do,” Gregorski said. “If it’s something we can expand, we’ll certainly look into it.”

There are mandatory steps to follow before a carton ever gets placed inside the ice chest. It must be the child’s decision not to drink the milk or eat that packaged item on their school lunch tray. Not only are the adults, both teachers and staff, barred from making that call, Katy Elementary principal Beth Grimet said they always encourage their students to finish their meal.

“We tell them, ‘Boys and girls, milk is good for you. Sweetie, you need to eat this,’” Grimet said. “But, they’re just kids and maybe they only want to take two bites.”

Without the Milk 4 Many program, anything not consumed by the students would simply end up in a landfill.

“We can’t take the food and repurpose it,” Grimet said. “It was all just being thrown away. You were just appalled at the food being wasted.”

The Katy Elementary students enjoy having a role to play in the milk program.

“They think it’s neat to go put it in the cooler. The Katy Elementary community is very giving,” Grimet said. “They’re very altruistic and they want to help others.”

Grimet is a firm backer of Milk 4 Many and said actual school involvement is relatively minimal. The only thing required at the volunteers willing to pick up the milk-filled ice chest on Mondays through Thursday. Katy Christian Ministries is closed on Friday.

“The (school) staff really doesn’t play a part,” Grimet said.

Carrie Singletary is president of the campus parent teacher organization. Her children don’t take part in the Milk 4 Many program because she packs their lunches every day. But, she still volunteers to help bring the donated milk and food to KCM.

“As our community grows, the need is even greater,” Singletary said. “You take care of your world and you take care of each other.”

Katy was among the communities hardest hit by the devastation from Hurricane Harvey. Havlick said they had people coming for help from all parts of the city.

“We’re really good at finding homes for food. If it’s more than we can take, we find a good home for it,” she said. “If it’s something we can store, we store it. Nothing goes to waste.”

Whatever happens, milk from the handful of Katy ISD schools taking part in the program always seems to arrive when most needed, Havlick said.

“Life is long and there are low points,” she said. “The Milk 4 Many just keeps coming. It’s almost like it’s an engine that doesn’t need a conductor.”

mike.glenn@chron.com