ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Bernalillo County is working to stop food waste at its community centers when there’s an excess of meals meant for local kids. A picture sent to KRQE News 13 shows a dumpster outside Los Vecinos Community Center in Tijeras was filled with about a dozen unopened meals.
“It’s sad no matter when this happens. We never like to see any waste like this,” Tom Thorpe, a communications services administrator with Bernalillo County said.
Thorpe added they were unserved hot dinners from one of the county’s free meal programs for kids. “We have two programs. There’s a lunch program that goes through APS [Albuquerque Public Schools] and then we have a dinner program. It’s a state program. It runs through the city and then to us,” he explained.
At their eight community centers, the county serves 2,400 to 2,500 meals a week, including lunches and dinners. Thorpe said the county does not keep track of how much food is wasted, but has to estimate the number of meals needed for the day by the average number of kids who show up. “Sometimes there are more kids that show up and sometimes less and when there are less, by the rules and guidelines of the programs, unfortunately, the food must be discarded,” Thorpe said.
After KRQE News 13’s inquiry, the county said it’s now drafting a letter to APS and likely the City of Albuquerque, asking if there’s a way to work toward changing the federal guidelines requiring them to toss the excess food daily. “Maybe these meals can be re-purposed, if you will, to other venues, homeless shelters,” Thorpe stated.
To prevent more waste, the county is encouraging all families who need meals to go to these centers and they won’t turn away any child. The City of Albuquerque says it’s working to further minimize waste by working with distributors to adjust the number of meals sent to each location. It currently supplies 300 meals a day at five of the county sites.
A city spokesperson provide the following statement:
“Disposal of unserved meals is a federal requirement for this program, not a City policy. The City is supplying 300 average daily meals to 5 county sites and 400 to City community centers, Boys & Girls Club and First Choice Community Health as part of a federally funded program designed to keep as many youth as possible fed during the pandemic. To minimize waste, we work closely with the distributors to regularly adjust the numbers of meals sent to each location based on attendance.”