Every child in America hears the words, "Clean your plate," and usually obeys, but the commandment seems to be forgotten in adulthood.

Forty percent of food in the United States goes in our trash cans, not in our mouths, resulting in $165 billion a year in waste, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

A group of Colorado College students is out to change such food abuse, and, ideally, the world.

"It's a very simple solution to a big problem," said Shane Lory, a sophomore at CC.

He and a few other students created Colorado Springs Food Rescue last fall. Lory, 21, is now its executive director.

There are a few big differences between the fledgling organization, which is patterned after a similar nonprofit in Boulder, and others that help the needy. Not only do volunteers collect donations of day-old bread and blemished produce from local bakeries and stores such as Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, they also salvage uneaten cooked food from the school cafeteria and deliver it, primarily by bicycle, to agencies that feed the poor.

"We eliminate the middle man - we don't transport it to a warehouse," Lory said. "We call it the 'just in time' food model."

The idea makes so much sense that the students convinced Bon Appetit Management Co., the food service provider for CC, to change its corporate policy.

"This type of food recovery is such a new and exciting field of hunger relief and waste management that there are very few guidelines available to businesses wanting to donate," said Claire Cummings, waste specialist for Bon Appetit Management Co. Foundation. "We adapted our policy to be more flexible to allow cafes to donate self-serve food in states where it is permissible."

Colorado is one of those states. So instead of throwing away leftovers from the buffet-style meals the CC cafeteria serves, excess French fries, hamburgers, hot dogs, pizza, sandwiches, salad, pasta, vegetables and other prepared dishes are carted away by food rescue volunteers.

"We hope that this model inspires other catering companies and restaurants to follow this precedent," Lory said.

Since being formed five months ago, Colorado Springs Food Rescue has saved more than 3,500 pounds of food that would have otherwise become garbage, according to Sanjay Roberts, another of the group's organizers.

Moreover, the food is nutritious and healthy, Lory said, not canned or prepackaged. Bon Appetit cooks all its food from scratch and sources as much as possible from local growers, and contributions from local retailers also are fresh.

"It's rewarding to see it working," Lory said. "This proves that young people, if they decide they want to change the system, with time and effort can do it."

The donations have made a difference at the Marian House Soup Kitchen, which serves 600-700 meals per day.

Students deliver about seven large pans of food each day, said Rochelle Schlortt, spokeswoman for Catholic Charities of Central Colorado. The organization runs the soup kitchen, which is about six blocks from CC.

"We immediately check the temperature when it arrives," she said. "Because it comes from a professional kitchen that knows how to properly store, cool and package the food, we have no reservations about accepting it and incorporating it into whatever we're preparing for the next day.

"It's a huge help to us - it's a significant amount of food that we repurpose."

The food rescue has grown from four students to more than 100 volunteers that include community members such as Jeff Haney, a CC alum who handles fundraising for the group.

"Delivering perishable food to those in need, in record time in a sustainable manner, as opposed to canned and processed foods, can solve the hunger issue," he said. "We already have great interest from other major food providers."

The challenge now is how to involve more supporters from outside the college so that the organization survives beyond its student founders. The organization has rallied sponsors, such as Poor Richard's and Ranch Foods Direct, and a January fundraiser netted $4,000.

"It's a dream come true, to connect the college and the community in a big and meaningful way," Haney said. "Everyone I've talked to gets it."