NEWBURYPORT – In the annals of eating, there once existed the clean-plate club for youngsters but that concept appears to be morphing into a "food recovery initiative" so that victuals are used wisely and effectively.

School officials have been running a food-recovery program this year at Nock/Molin and Bresnahan schools. And they recognized Food Recovery and Recycling Awareness Week in early March.

Organizers say that "recovery and awareness" means unused items left on a lunch tray that would normally go into trash can be saved and distributed to families in need on the North Shore. Those items include unopened containers of milk, yogurt, cheese, margarine and fruit cups.

Molly Ettenborough, who heads the city's recycling and sustainability program, said the program can work with all ages.

"Kids, even kindergartners and first-graders, understand the value of recycling," said Ettenborough, who presented a "food skills" program at Bresnahan Elementary School on Wednesday.

"We have a person near the trash bins, and if a fruit cup or carton of milk has not been opened, it goes into a nearby fridge immediately," she said. "Because the food was untouched, it can help families involved with a local group, Nourishing the North Shore."

Sheryn Seale, food service director for Newburyport public schools, praised the initiative.

"Food recovery in the schools is an incredible way not only to reduce waste but also to help provide wholesome foods to senior citizens and families in our community when local produce is less available" because of weather or the seasons, she said.

Seale said that since the start of the school year, 1,440 pounds of food and 1,155 cartons of milk have been saved and sent to families who could use them.

About 1,100 oranges and 250 apples have also been rescued from the oblivion of a trash bin.

School officials say there are about 680 students at Bresnahan and about 850 at the Nock/Molin complex.

The program isn't in place yet at Newburyport High School, which has about 780 students.

During the recent presentation at Bresnahan, community nurse Pam Palombo discussed with children the value of healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables.

Nourishing the North Shore, a locally based nonprofit organization, distributes fresh local produce during the growing season to people in need in Greater Newburyport.

Organization officials say that with the help of local farmers and a small farm in West Newbury, managers were able to distribute 5,500 pounds of food last summer.

In the offseason, the group stresses a recovery program such as the one in Newburyport schools.

"What this means to your children," said a statement issued by Nourishing the North Shore, "is that some of the unused items that would ordinarily go into the trash will now be saved and distributed to needy families in the community."

At the conclusion of a recent lunch hour, several first-graders seemed puzzled that adult monitors were taking untouched fruit and milk off their plates.

But they seemed satisfied when they learned it would be eaten by families who need the food.

Dyke Hendrickson covers Newburyport. He can be reached at 978-961-3149 or at

Newburyport News​