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Partnership between St. Joseph Hospital and Waste Not OC makes use of excess food and identifies those in need

Partnership between St. Joseph Hospital and Waste Not OC makes use of excess food and identifies those in need

Over the last two years, a partnership between St. Joseph Hospital in Orange and the Waste Not OC Coalition has been taking a symbiotic approach to ensuring locals don’t go hungry.

Waste Not OC works with local institutions to collect surplus food that would have otherwise been thrown out, redirecting it toward food pantries. Kim Norton, director of Food and Nutrition Services at St. Joseph, said the mission was a natural compliment to the hospital’s goal to improve health and quality of life for local communities.

Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, a team of Waste Not’s “Food Finders” come at the closing of St. Joseph’s cafeteria. They collect an average of 40 to 50 pounds in a visit, Norton said.

“When I first brought this program up, I thought I was going to get a bunch of groans like ‘Oh, this is more work for us to do.’ I was thrilled that I got the exact opposite,” Norton said. “Everyone was just so happy to be able to help the community and those who are going to bed hungry at night.”

Mike Learakos, executive director of Waste Not OC, said partnering with St. Joseph has been doubly helpful because the hospital’s doctors can assist by identifying and directing to help those in a nutritional crisis.

If doctors meet a patient who appears to be in need, they will now ask additional questions to find out if the patient has difficulty finding food – and if they have a source to go to if they’re going hungry. Doctors can direct patients to one of Waste Not OC’s many participating food pantries, including Mary’s Kitchen and the Friendly Center in Orange.

“Sometimes we’ve found that doctors are uncomfortable asking that question. The reason is, if they got an answer they know isn’t a good one, there’s nothing they could really do to help them,” Learakos said. “Now, there’s a link between identifying those that suffer from food insecurity and being able to direct them to help.”

The relationship has been a major win for both groups, as well as the hungry members of the community, Learakos said.

“When people come to St. Jo’s, that’s when they’re vulnerable. They’re getting medical services and guidance from a medical professional on where to get food,” Learakos said. “On the pantry level, they’re getting food from St. Jo’s, which is now touching them in a different way.”

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