Editor: Michael Bloecher
At a noisy lunch table, painted bright blue, 4th-graders Paulina Sanchez and Lesly Heredia sit side by side. The girls giggle and chat as they carefully pick through what’s on their lunch tray.
On this day the students at Jaime Escalante Elementary School, in Cudahy, are eating either tortellini with spinach, mushrooms and garlic drizzled with butternut squash sauce, or noodles with turkey meatballs. It is a radically different and new menu designed to be healthy, if not exotic.
At the beginning of the school year, Los Angeles Unified unveiled the new menu, and many of the students at Jaime Escalante, and the other 1,000-plus schools that fall under the LAUSD umbrella, are still not entirely sure what to make of the new menu. At one lunch table kids nod their approval as they happily fork the turkey meatballs into their mouths, while at another table words like “gross” are being tossed around as the uneaten food is being tossed out.
Paulina and Lesly started keeping track of how much food was being thrown away. The girls decided it was a waste, and so they did something about it. They wrote a letter to Dennis Barrett, director of food services for LAUSD, and asked if they could start a program to donate the food instead of tossing it in the trash. And so began the “common table” at Jaime Escalante.
Now if a student doesn’t want his or her lunch, it goes on a table instead of in the trash. Other students can opt to have seconds if they are still hungry, and what remains when the lunch bell rings gets donated to an agency in need.
Paulina and Lesly are soft-spoken and humble about what they’ve accomplished, and when asked why they did it, Paulina replied rather nonchalantly, “Because we want to change the world.” Now there’s some food for thought.