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.”