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Surplus With a Purpose

News  |  By Lena J. Weiner  
   September 01, 2016

Committed to giving back to the community, Jennifer Grenier, MSN, RN-BC, created a program to encourage healthcare workers to help feed those who are food insecure in Chicago.

This article first appeared in the September 2016 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.

Jennifer Grenier, MSN, RN-BC, director of nursing and inpatient rehab at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, was undergoing a four-month community leadership development course when she was asked to create the framework for a program that would give back to her community. When brainstorming with another program participant, Grenier voiced her concerns over hunger in the Chicago area, and mentioned that as much as 40% of commercially prepared food goes uneaten and is disposed of.

The other participant turned out to be the executive director of the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry, and together they developed a project that would redistribute excess commercially prepared food to local families in need.

The end result was The Surplus Project, a nonprofit organization that packages surplus food from local cafeterias and distributes it to people and families suffering from food insecurity. Currently, Rush Oak Park Hospital and Rush University Medical Center donate food, and the project won a $50,000 grant in February from the Oak Park-River Forest Community Foundation's Big Idea Contest Pitch Party held in Berwyn, Illinois.

On the link between food insecurity and poor health
If you are food insecure, then you don't have enough food for healthy living. What we see in food insecure people is that they often eat foods that are prepackaged and high in sodium. We see many of these patients coming in with congestive heart failure or uncontrolled diabetes, because they can't afford good, healthy food.

On healthcare workers and hunger
As healthcare workers, we have a special responsibility to relieve hunger, and one simple thing for us to do is to package food that is already in our hospital. We focus so much on helping patients to stay out of the hospital with medication and other treatments, but what we don't always do a good job of is asking the patient, "Do you have enough food at home?"

On why finding volunteers isn't difficult
At Rush, nurses are required to volunteer somewhere. Why not at their own hospital? With our in-hospital program, nurses and other staff leave their area for a half hour, package food, and boom! Volunteer time is done. No coming in on their day off. It's so easy for them, so convenient, and it's a great way to get staff involved because it's so quick.

Lena J. Weiner is an associate editor at HealthLeaders Media.

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