Orange County, CA, a county with 3.1 million people, where wealth and poverty live side by side. Orange County is ranked sixth in California with the highest median income of $74,163, yet 11.4% of the county’s residents are food insecure with 24% living in poverty. This amounts to approximately 349,090 individuals or 1 in 8 people, and 1 in 5 children. In 2013, Orange County was ranked #9 among counties in the nation with the highest number of people facing food insecurity and #8 among counties with more than 100,000 food-insecure children. The size of the Local Health Department jurisdiction for Orange County, California is just over 3,000,000 people.
The Waste Not OC Coalition (WNOC) is a public-private partnership formed with the goal of eliminating hunger and reducing food waste by facilitating the donation of surplus food from food producing facilities to local pantries. The coalition is reaching out, educating, and partnering with food producing facilities to donate their excess food instead of throwing it away. We are eliminating the stigma that health departments may not allow food donation by educating our partners on the true public and environmental health policies. Our Environmental Health Food Safety Director has created a video that explains food facilities will not be held liable if the food is prepared correctly for donation. WNOC has operated on minimal funding and one of our partners, Food Finders, a 510c3 nonprofit organization is also our fiscal intermediary. They transports surplus wholesome food from food producing facilities to pantries serving people in need. The overall vision of the coalition is bring awareness to the fact that ending hunger in Orange County is possible if we can save as much wholesome food as possible before it is thrown out. WNOC has found ways to accept perishable food items as well. This has increased our donation size and helped make sure that prepared meals will be eaten instead of begin thrown in the trash. This practice is one that we have not seen often and are very proud to continue.
We realize that this ending hunger is a lofty goal, however we are taking the steps to feed as many people as we possibly can. The Waste Not OC Coalition has created a 3-pronged approach in order to end hunger in our community: educating the community about food donations, identifying food insecure individuals, and connecting those individuals to sources of food. Early on in the coalition’s development a graduate student conducted a survey of businesses in Orange County to assess the general sentiment and identify perceived barriers among food distributors in participation of food recovery programs. The most common barrier noted to food donations was liability or fear of being sued for donating food that could make a recipient fall ill. WNOC has also partnered with Environmental Health specialists to help educate potential donors about donation during the inspection process. Though not usually involved with addressing the topic of hunger, health inspectors have now become the first point of contact for promoting food donations and educating the business community on how to safely donate food without the fear of liability. Inspectors now tackle the stigma of donating food by distributing brief one page handouts that address liability concerns to business owners during inspections. These handouts have been so successful that they have been adopted by Los Angeles and San Diego counties who are also interested in replicating WNOC in their areas. Long Beach, San Bernardino, Kern, Sacramento, San Diego, and Los Angeles counties have all expressed interest in replicating WNOC in their jurisdiction. WNOC originally set out to capture two cities,
WNOC Coalition has recovered about 129 tons of food from the cities of Anaheim and Orange, during the past year. These 209,889 meals would have otherwise ended up being thrown away. Our most recent donation in November of 2015 was 70,000 pounds or about 58,000 meals, that was recovered by one organization after hearing Dr. Handler’s presentation on the coalition. We have also implemented a process in Orange County Family Resource Centers (FRC’s) which screens patients for food insecurity by asking two questions. CHOC hospital and many FRC’s in the county have adopted this screening tool by asking these two simple questions: "Within the past 12 months we worried whether our food would run out before we got money to buy more,” and “Within the past 12 months the food we bought just didn’t last and we didn’t have money to get more.” The answers to these questions would be “Often true”, “Sometimes true”, and “Never true”.
The full impact of food insecurity in households across the United States varies slightly among some sources, but it is generally understood that 15% of the American population is food insecure. Feeding America, a privately owned national network of food banks in the United States, reports that 15.8% of the US population (about 49,078,000 people or 1 in every 6 individuals) live in food insecure households. This number includes about 33.3 million adults and roughly 15.8 million children as of 2015.
In the past many organization and nonprofits have taken different approaches to ending hunger. Food banks, homeless shelters, and organizations who participate in canned food drives all have played a major role in feeding the underserved people of Orange County. Schools have also implemented many programs similar to food drives. For example, the double bag lunch program where children bring an extra lunch to school which is then donated to a child in need. These programs highlight the fact that hunger does not discriminate and has an impact on people of all demographics. Orange County has one of the highest income rates nation-wide, however there are still people who cannot afford to eat due to the high cost of living. Approaches taken in the past have done great things for the community, however many of them are onetime events or done through organizations that do not have the support of key players such as the health department to be sustainable. Being a coalition as opposed to a single group allows for multiple needs to be met. As a result of the coalition, these organizations are banding together to combine ideas and multiply their resources exponentially. For example, Food Finders, Inc. is a 30-year-old nonprofit organization located in the City of Industry, Los Angeles County and serves as the fiscal agent and main food recovery organization for the Waste Not OC Coalition. Their primary focus is to recover food from food producing facilities for delivery to local pantries. As previously stated, having health inspectors on board is also an invaluable addition to our practice. In addition to liability information, the inspectors introduce Waste Not OC and explain the benefits to the community, as well as distribute tax break information and expiration date information. Making the handout a part of the health inspection protocol has been a simple solution to educate food producing facilities about donating food, ensuring the sustainability of WNOC’s food recovery outreach. Having the support of the Environmental Health Division is crucial to any county hoping to encourage food recovery among the business community.
Having marketing a promotional team member also sets up apart from other organizations. We owe much of our success to the people following and sharing our story on social media. WNOC is highly active on a multitude of online platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn) and updates its website often to maintain relevance and keep its followers up to date on new developments. This engages the public and capitalizes our social networks to advance awareness of the campaign. We also provide window seals for each of our donors with the WNOC logo as both an incentive and promotional material for businesses donating through Food Finders. These window seals are often followed up by a photo op in front of the facility, which is uploaded to the website and shared on all platforms as a mean to encourage others to join the cause. As of 2014 every yellow cab car has a WNOC decal in the inside every cab. Lastly, WNOC has created a Google map of pantries that allows for a zip code to be typed in which will lead to information about food pantries in the area, including their hours of operation, contact information, and resources available. These lists have also been broken down by region and printed for easy access to people at Family Resource Centers. All of these practices make the more sustainable and successful than practices used in the past.
The coalition is made up of members from all different backgrounds and of all different ages. Each member brings a different view to the table and it has become a very innovative, fast growing movement. We understand that we live in a fast changing world and the involvement of younger coalition members has provided us with fresh minds in the world of media, volunteer organization, and promotional success. Other team members include doctors, health inspectors, and school board directors who play the key role in connecting with donors and overseeing logistics. Each group has experience in different areas that are of great value in creating a seamless donation process. WNOC takes a creative approach to already existing tools. For example, we utilized google maps to create a version specifically for food pantries. Our screening tool for Family Resource Centers (FRC) also takes a creative approach on using the FRC’s tools to identify food insecure individuals. Social media platforms also have created a link between the general public and the coalition members. It has been very successful in creating a fast interaction for any questions or inquiries about volunteer opportunities and food donation. Food insecurity has been linked to lower academic performance in children, obesity, and decreased psychological abilities, which shows how this practice addresses very winnable battles that apply to food safety as well as nutrition and obesity.
The coalition has taken many steps to implement this program in our county, however following the three pronged approach mentioned above has become our template for success. We have broken down the steps that have been successful in Orange County by created a replicable method for other counties. The first step is to meet with an organization and present our program to them. After a particular organization has agreed to donate we arrange pick-ups with our fiscal agent, Food Finders, who will pick up the food and take it to a local pantry where it will be served that day or the next. Recovering perishable food items with the approval of the public health department is an innovative approach which guides healthier options to people in need. Although our goal is focus on recovery of all food, the fact that we are able to recover perishable food items has been very beneficial and a new implementation to the world of food recovery. This simple approach with Food Finders has led us to recover over 129 tons of food and has been extremely successful. Other steps that we have taken are to identify food insecure individuals. Having FRC’s on our team has allowed us to pair food insecure individuals with food pantries in the area. The resource centers can print pantry information off of our google map and provide a family with a location where they will be able to receive food. These measures are absolutely innovative, however we have created them in a manner that can be carried out to any other county who would like to implement them. Our community tool kit is also a successful step. On the Waste Not OC website (www.wastenotoc.org), you can find our community tool kit which shows the steps taken to creating success in food recovery. This document shows the process from birth so that anyone is able to take action in their own community and follow our procedure step by step.
The Coalition began in 2012 by bringing key steak holders together and getting the word out. Tracking recovered food by the pound and meal began in June 2014 and we have continued to use this method to track the success of the coalition. There are many steak holders involved with this practice including Food Finders. Their primary focus is to recover food from organizations for delivery to local pantries that are registered with Food Finders. They are neither a food bank nor a pantry. Once a food producing facility (such as a restaurant or grocery store) requests a pickup of a donation, Food Finders dispatches a designated volunteer to recover the food for delivery to the nearest pantry that is available to receive it on the same day. These arrangements are often made ahead of time, or can be requested as needed via Food Finders’ online donation availability form.
Another stake holder in the coalition is Environmental Health division of the OC Health Care Agency. The Program Manager for the county’s Food Protection Program in the Orange County Environmental Health Division came to understand that food establishments incorrectly believed that the health department discouraged food donations for safety and liability reasons. This inspired him to encourage the health inspectors to go beyond their normal duties and promote food donations.
The county employs about 50 inspectors who reach 15,000 food facilities throughout Orange County two to three times a year. Though not usually involved with addressing the topic of hunger, health inspectors have now become the first point of contact for promoting food donations and educating the business community on how to safely donate food without fear of liability. Inspectors now tackle the stigma of donating food by distributing brief handouts (“one-pagers”) that address liability concerns to business owners during inspections. These handouts have been so successful and they have been adopted by Los Angeles, San Diego, San Bernardino, Riverside, and San Luis Obispo counties. In addition to liability information, the inspectors introduce Waste Not OC and explain the benefits to the community, as well as distribute tax break information and expiration date information. Making the handout a part of the health inspection protocol has been a simple solution to educate potential partners about donating food, ensuring the sustainability of WNOC’s food recovery outreach. Soon after the launch of the pilot, WNOC found that restaurants were expressing interest in donating food but were not following through with donations. WNOC invited a restaurant owner to share his opinion for why these donations were not happening. He explained that the coalition did not understand the business “language” of the food industry and that this was part of the delay. This included concerns that restaurants have about their branding, costs, and day to day operations. This restaurant owner decided that in order for the food industry to play an active role in ending hunger, a subcommittee of the coalition called the Food Recovery Task Force had to be formed. This task force bridges the educational gap between the health department and food producing facilities.
WNOC, as part of its educational campaign, develops partnerships with local governments, meets with mayors, and presents at city council meetings and local chambers of commerce. Involvement in the local government is necessary to build awareness of food insecurity and gather support for food recovery. As the word spreads about WNOC, new donors and new partners decide to come in to the fold. Companies like Cambro, Sysco, and Yellow Cab Co. of Orange County, are a few examples of key partnerships that boost WNOC’s capacity to recover food. Cambro Foodservice Equipment and Supplies partners with WNOC to make coolers, trays, and other supplies for Food Finders at a discounted rate. This offsets the cost to donors and agencies to provide and receive donations. Additionally, Sysco Corporation is a marketer and distributor of foodservice products and partners with WNOC by encouraging their Orange County-based district sales managers and representatives to promote WNOC at every business that they distribute to. These locations are similar to those reached by health inspectors, but further emphasize the point that cross-promotion is key to increased recognition. Having internal champions in the coalition has been a pivotal part of our success.
A unique problem presents itself when Food Finders receives a last minute request to pick up donated food in a location where volunteers are unavailable. Therefore, WNOC and Food Finders partnered with Yellow Cab of Orange County to be the official emergency transportation for recovered food. Food Finders, for example, can ping Yellow Cab to drive to a restaurant, the donor loads the food into the taxi, the driver transports the food to the designated recipient agency, at which point the recipient unloads the taxi. Yellow Cab Company of Orange County has generously donated $500 to the first deliveries and now features Waste Not OC window seals in all 500 cars in the county. Furthermore, Yellow Cab Co. of Orange County cabs are required to renew their safety and cleanliness permits on a weekly basis to ensure the quality of their services. This partnership is an innovative solution to a tough problem, which can easily be replicated in other cities.
WNOC sustains itself on in-kind donations and grants. United Way has granted the coalition 50,000 dollars both the in 2014 and 2015 fiscal years. The Health Care Agency of Orange County has also put money forward to hire a project manager and assistant project manager for the coalition.
We found out that there are logistical issues with food donation and proper safety. These issues were solved by the involvement of our Environmental Health officers. Our goal was to eliminate hunger and reduce food waste by facilitating the donation of surplus food from local businesses and organizations to food pantries in Orange County. The coalition is reaching out, educating, and partnering with facilities to donate their excess food instead of discarding it. From June 2014 to present day we have achieved many great honors and have been nationally recognized. Waste Not OC has been fortunate to receive state and national recognition. The Orange County League of Women Voters has honored Waste Not OC’s efforts, in addition to a Proclamation from the OC Board of Supervisors. United Way of Orange County has generously funded $50,000 for 2014-2015 and 2015-2016 each year. Additionally, the Orange County Health Care Agency has continuously shown its support for the program by funding a part time Project Manager for Waste Not OC since 2013. The Orange County Medical Association (OCMA) awarded the WNOC co-founder and OC Public Health Officer, Dr. Eric Handler, as the OCMA Physician of the Year – 2015 for his involvement with WNOC. WNOC is also working very closely with the California Department of Public Health’s Office of Health Equity to develop a statewide framework based on Waste Not OC. In early 2015, the University of California Office of the President launched the UC Global Food Initiative, which established on-site pantries to all UC schools. Waste Not OC played a significant role in ensuring that the pantry at the University of California, Irvine had a food bank partner and connected their pantry with the Orange County Food Bank to provide on-site food for food insecure students. In early March 2015, WNOC received recognition from the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) as a Promising Practice, and presented at NACCHO’s Annual Conference in Kansas City, MO a few months later. WNOC has presented its model for food donations at various conferences, such as the National Association of Counties (NACo) Conference in Charlotte, NC, the National Environmental Health Association Annual Exhibition and Conference (NEHA-AEC) in Orlando, FL, in addition to the US Conference of Mayors in San Francisco, CA alongside the Mayor of Anaheim. WNOC also presented at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in Chicago, IL in November of 2015. Other achievements include the recognition from San Bernardino, Kern, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Diego counties with interest in replicating the program for their areas. Also, the California Department of Public Health Office of Minority Health has reached out to the Coalition to become a state wide program. We have evaluated our practice in coalition meetings by gathering our stake holders and reviewing the processes that we have been using. One of the roles of the project managers is to oversee our work and be a point of contact for all members of the community. They also evaluate the success of our current program.
Our data is analyzed by using a conversion from pounds to tons. We also convert from pounds to meals. Our conversion shows that there are 2,000 pounds per ton so we find the tonnage after weighing the pounds donated. The conversion for meals states that there are 1.2 pounds per meal. Here we divide the pounds recovered by 1.2 to find the amount of meals recovered. Each month Food Finders reports the pounds collected throughout the county and we use these conversions to keep our website up to date with the number of meals that have been recovered over time. Other data includes regional breakdowns of the county FRC’s. Staying up to date on our google map allows for more efficiency in pointing food insecure individuals toward local pantries.
We have learned that with a goal so lofty it truly does take an army. With all hands on deck we have been able to solve all logistical issues and keep our donors coming back while adding more every month. We have also learned the importance of educating all volunteers in proper food safety and transportation. When a coalition is in place all members must be on the same page and share all information. It has been a learning experience in communication and collaborative efforts. In the area of collaborative efforts we have learned that communication is the most important factor to a successful operation. When one part of the coalition receives any new information it much be transferred to all team members. We have also learned that when working with partner collaboration it is extremely beneficial to have everyone’s ideas heard and use pieces of expertise in order to create a system that is seamless. The Waste Not OC coalition plans to be long lasting and sustainable through the work of our team and engaged community.
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