An initiative to donate excess hospital food to those in need has grown from its 2015 origin at Rush Oak Park Hospital to include Rush University Medical Center and two other health organizations. In 2019, the Rush Surplus Project will expand further to directly touch Rush patients faced with food insecurity.
The mission of the Surplus Project also contributes to Rush's mission to improve the health of individuals and diverse communities we serve. Food packaged at Rush Oak Park Hospital is delivered to the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry and the local YMCA. Food from the Medical Center is brought to Franciscan House, a 257-bed shelter on Chicago’s West Side.
In its first year, the program served more than 4,000 meals and reduced Rush Oak Park Hospital’s cafeteria waste by more than 300 pounds each month. Last year, the program at Rush Oak Park Hospital delivered 9,751 meals.
The program expanded to Rush University Medical Center in 2017.
“What a wonderful success it has been. We have donated 20,000 meals to homeless people on Chicago’s West Side,” said Jennifer Grenier, DNP, RN-BC, director of nursing, Rush Rehabilitation and founder of the Surplus Project. Grenier is a former unit director at Rush Oak Park Hospital.
The Medical Center has reduced monthly food waste from 75 pounds per day (2,250 pounds monthly) to about 30 pounds daily, or 900 pounds a month. In both Rush locations, a group of volunteers with food handler certifications package food three or four times a week, 52 weeks a year to ensure that the shelters have enough food.
Expanding the Surplus Project concept beyond Rush
The success of the Surplus Project has expanded beyond Rush. Grenier has been asked to share the program and her ideas with other organizations across the city, state and country to allow others to replicate the program in their areas.
Already, two other groups have begun the project. The program successfully has been implemented at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital in Richmond, Virginia and Blessing-Rieman College of Nursing and Health Sciences in Quincy, Illinois.
Only three days after starting the program, Bon Secours was able to donate more than 250 meals to the local Salvation Army. Three senior nursing students began the program at Blessing-Rieman to support Quanda, a nonprofit agency that assists the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. They have delivered more than 200 pounds of food since the program began just a few months ago.
Surplus Project Phase 2: Food is Medicine
Starting this year, Rush University Medical Center nurses will begin screening inpatients for food insecurity during their hospital stays. This process is part of “Food is Medicine,” phase two of the Surplus Project.
If a patient screens positive for food insecurity, the volunteer department at Rush University Medical Center will collaborate with the Department of Food and Nutrition services, the Greater Chicago Food Depository and the Surplus Project to deliver a box of non-perishable food items to the patient’s bedside.
“We ask patients all the time if they have enough medicine and supplies to heal at home,” Grenier explained. “Now we will ask the patients, ‘Do you have enough food to heal at home?’ because food is medicine.”
“The Surplus Project is one part of a larger strategy at Rush to erase the 16-year life expectancy gap between the residents of the West Side and residents of the Loop,” Grenier said. “What a great way to make a difference and impact our anchor mission!”
If you know an organization with surplus food interested in making donations to help those in need, put them in touch with the Surplus Project. You can contact them through their website, thesurplusproject.org.