Contagious Collaboration

More than three years since its creation, the Surplus Project continues to redirect leftover cafeteria food to those in need.  The impact is profound.  Last year nearly 20,000 pounds of food – the equivalent of 18,000 meals – went to people in need instead of a landfill.

“That food would have gone to waste. Think of all of the people who will benefit from those meals,” says Jackie Doherty, manager of Medical Staff Services at Rush Oak Park Hospital, and co-coordinator of the Surplus Project there.

The environment is also a winner. An estimated 30 percent to 40 percent of the U.S. food supply ends up in the waste stream. Globally, food waste contributes 8 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.  Cafeterias are a prime contributor, with food typically comprising up to 45 percent of the waste produced by an institution. 

The benefits of the Surplus Project go well beyond its environmental impacts.  In the eyes of Alison Jordan, clinical lead nurse at Rush Oak Park Hospital, and co-coordinator of the program at the hospital, “It benefits everyone. As a nurse we need volunteer hours, and it gets you away from your desk or your patients and you feel like you’re doing something good. It’s been great to get to know people from other departments and the kitchen staff.”

Jackie adds, “[The Surplus Project] is a collaborative effort. We couldn’t do this without the nurses, and the kitchen staff. We have such a good group of people who are willing to help.” It’s a collaboration that’s spread to cafeterias and social service providers across Oak Park, River Forest, Berwyn, and Chicago’s Austin Neighborhood and now includes 15 local partners: seven donor cafeteria sites and eight recipient sites.

Surplus Project Partners

City BBQ, Berwyn Oak Park and River Forest High School
Dominican University Oak Park Township Senior Services
Ebenezer Food Pantry Riveredge Hospital
Loretto Hospital Rush Oak Park Hospital
Mills Park Tower Sarah's Inn
New Life Ministries Food Pantry West Cook YMCA
New Moms Youth Outreach Services
Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry