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Hospital Food Helping Our Community

Health Hub
Author name: Lee Health

food donation picRavina Romero, left, and Mary Grubbs, Program Manager of the Empowerment Center, prepare to unload a HealthPark Medical Center food donation to the center.

About $250. That’s the amount of money, on average, a family of four people spends on wasted food, based on a monthly food budget of $1,000.

In other words, we waste 25 percent of food that could go to people with food insecurity, a term for people in households that lack access to adequate food because of limited money or other resources, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

In June, Lee Health and Healthy Lee developed the Lee Health Surplus Hurricane Supply Food Donation program. The initiative safely diverts hospital food to organizations that feed people who are food insecure.

Lee Health campuses at Cape Coral Hospital, Gulf Coast Medical Center, Lee Memorial Hospital, and HealthPark Medical Center, participate.

Heather Wayco, director of Clinical Nutrition/Patient Experience Cohort at Lee Health, says Florida health care regulators require facilities like Lee Health, as part of its emergency management plan, to establish a 7-day emergency food menu for hosted patients during a disaster.

“For each patient, the requirement is food service three times each day and a daily menu that provides five ounces of protein, starches and vegetables, milk or dairy items, and water for each patient,” Heather explains.

Most of the emergency foodstuffs come in bulk size, or no. 10 cans, the size of cans often used by restaurant prep kitchens.

“We keep a surplus of these foods, which include cans of tuna, chicken, ravioli, single-serve boxed cereals, juice and fruit cups, packages of cookies, graham crackers, granola bars, powdered milk, and so on,” she says. “In the event we don’t use these emergency foods and three months before their expiration date, instead of discarding the foods, we donate them to our community partners who serve our vulnerable population.”

In Southwest Florida, 20.4 percent of children are food insecure vs. 17 percent of children nationwide, per a press release of the Harry Chapin Food Bank of Southwest Florida. According to the release, of 227,645 children in Southwest Florida, 46,470 are food insecure. The rate of child food insecurity for the state of Florida is also 20.4 percent.

The Lee Health Surplus Hurricane Supply Food Donation program, which started in June, has diverted almost 17,500 meals to area nonprofit organizations that feed the hungry, such as The Salvation Army, Community Cooperative, Grace Lutheran Church, the Empowerment Center, St. Mathew’s House, Feed My Families, and CafĂ© of Life.

Mary Grubbs, a case manager at The Empowerment Center in Fort Myers, a 90-day transitional facility for the homeless, says the program has swelled the hearts of its clients, recent recipients of a food donation from HealthPark Medical Center that included bread, peanut butter, Jell-o, and other foods.

“We are so grateful to have that food,” Mary says. “To know that someone cares about them gives our clients hope. It’s transforming, really. It meant the world to them.”

Deana Brill, Director of Lee Health Food Services, HealthPark Medical Center, calls the program an exciting community partnership.

“We want to be good stewards of our own resources. I’m excited to see how the program will grow and benefit our community members.”