Solving hunger through food donations

Orange County, Calif.

The Orange County, Calif. Health Care Agency (OCHCA) is working to solve the complex issues of combating food waste and hunger with the simpler solution of donating surplus food from food-producing facilities to local pantries.  

The Waste Not OC (WNOC) coalition, a public-private partnership formed in November 2012, is facilitating this solution. Cofounded by Orange County Health Officer Dr. Eric Handler, WNOC is a public-private partnership consisting of OCHCA, the OC Food Bank, the Second Harvest Food Bank, nonprofit organization Food Finders and local restaurant owner Mike Learakos. So far, Orange County has contributed over $127,000 to WNOC.

WNOC’s mission is multi-faceted. It educates restaurants and grocery stores about food donation and the federal Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Act, which protects food donors’ liability if the food is prepared correctly. It also facilitates those organizations’ participation in its food donations to local pantries. WNOC then identifies people in need of food; it has screened over 32,000 individuals since inception. Lastly, it brings the food from those restaurants to the needy. A map on WNOC’s site — which has been integrated into Orange County’s 2-1-1 site — lets beneficiaries find which of the approximately 240 Orange County pantries that WNOC has identified is closest to their location. So far, WNOC has distributed 260 tons of food from Anaheim and Orange, Calif.

2016 was a year of accomplishments and accolades for WNOC. The Orange County Board of Supervisors announced it would help fund full-time program manager and executive director positions for WNOC; Learakos holds the latter position. The coalition also kicked off its Yellow Cab pilot project with the Anaheim Union High School District, which has Yellow Cab of Orange County driving food from middle and high schools in Anaheim to local pantries that offer after school programs at no cost.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) recognized WNOC as a model practice in 2016, and WNOC’s model has received attention from local and state governments across the country. WNOC has presented their model to California jurisdictions, and the counties of Alameda, Los Angeles, Marin, San Bernardino, San Diego and Solano are currently using WNOC’s model as a means of reducing food waste.

The California government and several California counties have also asked WNOC to assist them with implementing AB 1826, a bill that requires California jurisdictions and businesses to institute food (and organic) waste recycling programs. Other U.S. cities like San Antonio and Phoenix have reached out to WNOC to replicate the model.

“What makes it so cool is that it’s so simple,” says co-founder Handler. “It’s not easy, but it’s simple.”

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