Waste not: Hospitals fight hunger by donating surplus food to feed community members

January 15, 2019

Two ministry members join an anti-hunger initiative started by college students


Many hospitals donate surplus food to organizations that feed the hungry — now a few have signed on as part of the Food Recovery Network's Food Recovery Verified program. That designation means a facility systematically ensures that surplus food — everything from prepared entrées to fresh-baked dinner rolls to produce — goes where it can be used.

Catholic Health Initiatives' Trinity Health System in Steubenville, Ohio, and SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City both received Food Recovery Verified status in 2018, having applied through Sodexo, the contracted partner for food service at the hospitals.


"We signed up," said Barbara Fuller Millwee, director and general manager of food and nutrition services at St. Anthony. "We collect any leftover foods on our St. Anthony main campus in midtown Oklahoma City as well as from our owned Starbucks on the campus, and soon we hope to get St. Anthony South involved as well."

College roots
The certification program is offered through the Food Recovery Network, which was founded in 2011 by students at the University of Maryland, College Park to recover surplus food on college campuses. In 2013, the Sodexo Stop Hunger Foundation provided the organization with funding to transition into a professional nonprofit.

The Food Recovery Network now boasts 230 chapters in 44 states and has expanded its certification program to include food businesses outside of college campuses that commit to channeling surplus food to local nonprofits. In November the Food Recovery Network announced it had donated 3 million pounds of surplus food to date — the equivalent of giving 2.5 million meals — to homeless shelters, soup kitchens and community centers across the country.

The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that Americans throw away $218 billion in food each year and almost all that waste ends up in landfills where it decomposes in a process that produces methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

w190115_WasteNot-1-aKenyun Westbrook, a food services employee at SSM Health St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City, packs up leftover food for pick-up and redistribution through shelters, community feeding programs and other community nonprofits. The hospital participates in a national program which aims to address hunger and cut food waste.

Meals to go
Food service workers at St. Anthony package surplus food in metal containers every day for pick up by the Needs Foundation. That charitable organization collects surplus food from restaurants, bakeries, grocery stores and other businesses in Oklahoma City and ensures it gets to the people who need it most through distributions at shelters, churches with community feeding programs, group homes, assisted living centers, public schools, Veterans Administration hospitals and other partner agencies.

The Preservation of the Earth committee at St. Anthony initiated the donation program in the fall of 2016, and by the end of that year the hospital had donated 1,256 pounds of food. In 2017 the hospital provided the Needs Foundation with 6,244 pounds of food. As of July 2018, almost 3,000 pounds had been donated.

Workplace pride
Where exactly does all this excess food come from?

"In our cafeteria we may have entrées, side dishes or deli items that don't sell, and we package those up, plus our Starbucks may have day-old items to contribute," Millwee said. "In terms of our patient service, we know our food needs to a large extent, but we have variables all the time. We make our own dinner rolls, and we may have 20 left over at the end of the day. We package those up too."

Millwee added that the hospital's workers all have a sense of pride about the donations. "Now, instead of putting leftover food in the trash, employees know this food is going someplace where it will be used for good."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that in 2017 about 15 million Americans were "food insecure" — lacking reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. And yet at least 25 percent of the food available for consumption in the U.S. gets wasted, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency have set a food waste reduction goal of 50 percent by 2030.

Labor of love
"Donating our extra food is second nature to us now," said Jen Riley, Sodexo's general manager for Trinity Health, a two-hospital system. For over five years, the health system has donated food to the Urban Mission Ministries, a community nonprofit that provides hot meals, shelter and other essential services to low-income residents of the Ohio Valley.


In 2017 Trinity Health sent 5,192 pounds of food to Urban Mission from its Trinity Medical Center East and Trinity Medical Center West campuses — both in Steubenville. Last spring, Trinity formalized that arrangement by becoming Food Recovery Verified.

"We haven't changed the processes we follow, but now we have the certification title so everybody knows our leftovers are not thrown in the trash can," Riley said. "Each day we pack up and freeze prepared meals and extra bread from the cafeteria, and the mission comes once a week to pick it up." The food is served at a hot meal offered at the Urban Mission shelter for the homeless.

"Our mission is to be an extension of Christ, and this is another way our employees give back to the community," said Laurie Labishak, marketing manager for Trinity. "Sharing with others truly embodies the mission of Trinity and Catholic Health Initiatives."



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