RESEDA — To Dan Mastro, there's nothing happy about a perfectly good meal that gets thrown in the garbage.
So, on Tuesday, the LAPD sergeant launched a campaign to persuade McDonald's to help stem the tide of Happy Meals being tossed aside by patrons whose only hunger is for the Teenie Beanie Babies inside the bags of children's burgers or chicken McNuggets.
Under Mastro's proposal, McDonald's counter workers would ask customers if they really wanted the Happy Meal food or just the trendy toy inside.
If customers didn't want the food, the restaurant would keep a running tab of how much that food was worth and donate a check to a local food bank at the end of the week. If that didn't work, he said, company officials could donate the uncooked food itself.
"The bottom line is that hundreds of thousands of meals are getting wasted," Mastro said. "Hopefully, McDonald's is big enough to take a look at this and make something positive of it."
Mastro, who works at the LAPD's West Valley station in Reseda, said he was motivated in part by fellow officers who admitted to throwing out excess chow and by his daughter who he said was told by a McDonald's manager that she had to take her food with her even though she didn't want it.
A Los Angeles-based spokeswoman for McDonald's said that company officials were unfamiliar with Mastro's idea and therefore could not comment.
On Friday, McDonald's began a promotional campaign in which the company expects to distribute 240 million miniature bean bag toys. The fast-food giant hopes to improve on a similar campaign last year in which Teenie Beanie Babies boosted sales more than any other promotion in McDonald's history.
While policies differ from restaurant to restaurant, the basic idea is that customers receive one of the dolls with each Happy Meal they purchase. Generally, there is a limit to the number of Happy Meals that can be bought at a single location, prompting many people to drive from restaurant to restaurant in search of the collectibles--and leaving a trail of unwanted McFood in their wake.
Mastro said Tuesday that he left a telephone message for a McDonald's marketing executive, but had not yet heard back from the company. Meanwhile, he called several Los Angeles media outlets in an attempt to gain publicity for his proposal.
Josie Cabiglio, a spokeswoman for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Los Angeles, said her organization would gladly help distribute food if McDonald's chose to participate.
"We could find a way to do it," she said. "Just the thought of wasting food . . . that's sinful."
Doris Bloch, executive director of the Los Angeles Food Bank, said while the Beanie Baby phenomenon may present an acute situation, there is a strong cooperative relationship between her organization and local restaurants.
Last year, she said, the food bank distributed 27 million pounds of food to hungry L.A. residents, much of it leftovers from area restaurants. This year, the food bank hopes to distribute 30 million pounds, she said.
"It's not as if people are saying, 'Who cares?' " Bloch said. "We're trying really hard to address this problem. Any time I hear about good food being thrown out . . . it hurts."