Employees of Community Medical Center Fight Hunger in Ocean County

2020 was a record year for Community Medical Center’s Annual Food Drive, which benefits community members in need.

Employees of Community Medical Center (CMC) rely on the cafeteria for tasty and nourishing meals. But on August 20, the scenario was flipped: Employees and medical staff members brought groceries to the cafeteria instead. The occasion was the 14th annual Healthcare Harvest Food Drive, which is aimed at helping community members in need.

Donations were weighed and readied for pickup by the People’s Pantry of Toms River. By day’s end, 17,000 pounds of food had been collected. In addition, $17,000 in cash and gift cards arrived courtesy of CMC’s physicians’ group, food vendors, and others—enough to buy another 17,000 pounds of food.

The food drive is organized by Thomas Yanisko, Administrative Director of Hospitality Services at CMC.

“I always thought that as one of the larger employers in Ocean County, we had an obligation to give back to the community,” he says. “Our chefs’ association did a lot of work with food banks and feeding areas throughout the county, and I saw how these organizations benefited the community. I wanted to try to make a difference for people in need in Ocean County.”

In 2007, he launched the first drive.

Community Medical Center recently held its 14th Annual Healthcare Harvest and brought in 17,000 pounds of food and an additional $17,000 in cash and gift cards.

The Challenges of the Coronavirus

Yanisko starts planning each year’s food drive in January, and the event is traditionally held in early June, as school lets out.

“A lot of kids don’t have access to meals during the summer, so we thought it would be a good time to replenish local food pantries,” he says.

The coronavirus put this year’s plans on hold, but CMC was determined to hold the drive.

“A lot of people couldn’t work because of social distancing, so the community was in need of food,” he says. “We thought it was more important than ever to hold the drive.”

The decision was made to wait until things settled down, then reschedule the date to late August.

CMC’s employees and medical staff members were ready and eager to participate.

“Everyone tends to look forward to the event,” says Yanisko. “It’s become part of our culture. As the date of the drive approaches, each department starts thinking of ways they can collect food. Many employees shop at nearby stores like Costco and Aldi, which boosts our local economy.”

One of the reasons the drive is so well-loved is because of Yanisko’s creativity.

“After the first year we collected food, I wanted to make it more fun and festive,” he says.

Departments enter into friendly rivalries to win one of several awards.

“There’s the Caring Can trophy, which goes to the department that collects the largest amount of food by weight per team member,” says Yanisko. “We also have the Silver Spatula award for the department that donates the largest amount of food by weight. The Comeback Claret is for the department that has the biggest increase from the previous year.”

Then there’s the “Wheel of Wack,” which is awarded to the department that creates the most festive entrance to the cafeteria.

“This year, the cardiology department dressed up as a bunch of nuns and came in singing ‘The Sound of Music,’” says Yanisko.

A Labor of Love

All joking aside, Yanisko and the CMC staff members have made great strides in fighting hunger in the area.

“This year, we donated the largest amount of food in the history of the program,” he says. Since the food drive began, staff members have collected more than 250,000 pounds of food for Ocean County residents.

The food drive may be a massive undertaking, but it’s a labor of love for Yanisko. “At the beginning of a drive, I might be pessimistic because I feel like we’re underachieving,” he says. “But Community Medical Center employees have always exceeded my expectations. One of the most exciting parts of the drive is seeing our cafeteria at the end of the weigh-in day. It’s filled with food that will be given to those in need within 24 hours. For me, it’s incredibly satisfying.”

Our employees give back to the community. Learn about giving opportunities at Community Medical Center.