NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – It’s a stunning discovery in these tough economic times: Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of food that was supposed to be served in school cafeterias could go to waste unless the Department of Education quickly comes up with a plan to stop it from being dumped.

CBS2 political reporter Marcia Kramer has the exclusive details.

Hungry New Yorkers at a Brooklyn food pantry were stunned to learn about a CBS2 discovery: Nearly $800,000 worth of food warehoused by the Department of Education when schools were closed could end up in the garbage because it will expire before the fall. And it’s all because the DOE has not yet made any plans for what to do with it.

“Feed the poor people, and feed the poor people on the streets,” said Brooklyn resident Alla Kapustina.

“Instead of putting it in the garbage at the end of the summer, they can bring it to us,” Ruven Diaz, manager at the Masbia Soup Kitchen Network.

At issue are what sources tell CBS2 are nearly 20,000 cases of cheese breakfast bagels, pizza products, cheese and other items that are set to expire sometime this summer. Under Department of Education guidelines, some food expires six months after it is manufactured. The cheese breakfast bagels in a school cafeteria were manufactured on Feb. 7. They expire in early August.

“Food pantries and soup kitchens all over the city can make use of them. We’re seeing a 500% increase in demand, so that supply would be a blessing for all of us,” said Alexander Rapaport, executive director of the Masbia Soup Kitchen Network.

Public officials are outraged – especially Assemblyman Felix Ortiz – who passed legislation empowering the Department of Education to donate all unused food. He wants the chancellor and the mayor to develop a plan to put the food to good use.

“To hear this news makes me angry and upset, because we have so many communities, my own district in Sunset Park and Red Hook, who need the food and I think it’s imperative that they take these actions now,” Ortiz said.

City Council education chair Mark Treyger suggest the food be donated to help homebound seniors who have complained about the quality of the food they receive.

“It would be an outrageous, outrageous waste of money and resources and food. Especially in this fiscal crisis, especially in this food insecurity crisis to let that food just expire,” Treyger said.

Resolving the issue could be complicated. A Department of Education Spokesman said the agency is trying to work out a plan to ensure the unused food in cafeteria freezers doesn’t go to waste.  But that’s only a small percentage of the food – the rest is in distributors’ warehouses.

The agency is questioning its responsibility for food ordered in anticipation of needs that changed drastically when schools were closed. The agency says its still trying to work that out.

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