At a critical time as more people experience food insecurity due to the pandemic, a first-of-its-kind project in Northern California is safely and quickly diverting hospital food that otherwise would go to waste and getting it into the mouths of the hungry.
Since February 2020, the program has diverted 67,000 pounds of food — which have provided more than 55,000 meals — to 20 nonprofit organizations that feed the hungry, including the Salvation Army in several communities, the Modesto Gospel Mission, The Gathering Inn of Placer County, Hope Family Shelter of Manteca and Emeryville Citizens Assistance Program.
Sutter Health’s integrated network launched a collaboration early in 2020 with nonprofit Health Care Without Harm to implement the program, which is partially funded by a grant from the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) through California Climate Investments. Sixteen Sutter hospitals from Crescent City to Los Banos and the Bay Area to Sacramento are involved in the Sutter Food Rescue program to feed the hungry in their own communities. Another program benefit: By diverting the food from landfills, Sutter Health has reduced carbon emissions by 294,000 pounds and saved more than 24 million gallons of water.
“From our earliest days, Sutter Health’s network has provided access to high-quality, affordable medical care in our facilities – but we’ve also been deeply invested in the health and wellbeing of our broader communities,” says Chief Medical Officer Stephen H. Lockhart, M.D., executive sponsor of Sutter Health’s Environmental Stewardship program. “The teams behind this project are putting our values into action by leveraging innovation to not only reduce our environmental footprint, but also help feed community members in need.”
The work is powered by a technology platform designed by San Francisco-based Copia – a zero waste and hunger technology platform that allows food service employees to measure and prevent food waste while seamlessly donating all unsold or unserved edible excess food. Hospital food services workers measure daily food waste and submit their edible food donations in one streamlined process through Copia’s software application on mobile tablets. Copia’s mobile app then automatically dispatches drivers to pick up and deliver the food to local non-profits feeding food insecure populations.
“Food waste among hospitals is a solvable problem,” says Komal Ahmad, founder of Copia. “If every hospital in the U.S. partnered with Copia, we could provide more than 250 million meals each year to people in need and save hundreds of millions of dollars in purchasing and production of food. Copia is thrilled to partner with Sutter Health to lead the healthcare industry in filling the food insecurity gap and building community resilience, especially during a time when insecurity has never been higher.”
The average distance donated food traveled from the hospitals to someone who needed it was less than 4 miles. The food is delivered quickly, without the need to freeze it, providing fresh, quality, healthy meals to those who need it most.
“Over the first 10 months of this pilot project, we have gained valuable insight into how to contribute to community health, reduce waste and be good stewards of our own resources,” said Jack Breezee, regional food and nutrition services director for Sutter’s Valley Area. “I can only look forward to what we will continue to learn and how we can build on these successes to serve our patients and communities.”
In just its first week in the project during the summer, Sutter Delta Medical Center recovered nearly 140 pounds of surplus food from the hospital—enough for 116 meals for Love a Child Missions, which serves homeless women and children in Contra Costa County, and Light Ministries Pentecostal Church of God, which serves meals to needy families in Antioch.
“This is an exciting partnership,” says Sutter Delta’s assistant administrator Tim Bouslog. “We’ve always had a vested interest in sustainability at our hospital, and the positive impact on the community during these difficult times makes this a great step forward.”
Says Maria Lewis, director of Food and Nutrition Services at Sutter’s Eden Medical Center, “Eden’s first donation provided 45 meals to The Salvation Army in Hayward. This one donation not only consisted of 55 pounds of perfectly edible food, but also saved 241 pounds of CO2 emissions. We are humbled to be able to support our community, as well as help preserve our environment in the same process.”