Jul 6, 2022 Nourishing Hungry Neighbors

Four people wearing face masks and gloves stand at a table with food trays. They are preparing meals in black containers.

An innovative program from Community Medical Center in Toms River delivers food where it's needed most.

For Community Medical Center (CMC), serving area residents means more than providing trusted, state-of-the-art medical care. It also means offering nutritious meals that ease hunger among fixed-income seniors and others each week in a warm, friendly environment.

Adding to CMC’s annual food drives and other health promotion efforts, the hospital launched a new weekly meal donation service in October 2021. It plates up repurposed food from the hospital for more than 50 area residents facing food insecurity. Teams of CMC volunteers distribute the bounty every Wednesday afternoon at The Barn in Whiting.

The nonprofit Inspire-NJ, which formed after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 to bring needed services to Ocean County, uses The Barn as a meal pickup site, restaurant, food pantry and training ground to prepare developmentally disabled adults for jobs in the area.

“What’s fundamental here is our mission to give back to the community where we live and work,” says Thomas Yanisko, CMC’s Administrative Director of Hospitality Services, who spearheaded and oversees the meal program. “I believe if we have the capacity to do something, we have the responsibility to do it.”

CMC’s access to equipment, facilities and food presents opportunities “to pay it forward,” says Yanisko, who has worked at the hospital for 33 years.

Eager Recipients

woman ladling food into a plastic dishThe new meal program was born out of Yanisko’s desire to use uneaten food that health care facilities inevitably produce for patients and cafeterias. “We can’t always make the exact number of meals people eat,” says Yanisko, who also has been executive chef at CMC.

On Wednesdays, Yanisko joins CMC dietary staff members to gather unused food such as homemade soups, protein-based entrées, vegetables and carbohydrate-based side dishes. They plate the food into dozens of healthy low-sodium, reduced-fat meals using single-serving, microwaveable containers. The night before, Yanisko also heads to the grocery store and uses donated gift cards to stock up on fresh fruit and dessert items that round out meals.

“We can do this without costing the hospital,” Yanisko says. “We’re using resources that otherwise would have gone to waste.”

Volunteers from various CMC departments who join Yanisko each week at The Barn, located about 25 minutes from the hospital, often find a line of eager recipients waiting to bring meals home. Many residents take three or four meals to give homebound neighbors who otherwise might also go hungry.

“It’s an awakening for many of our volunteers to see people show up and patiently wait to get a meal,” Yanisko says. “Most of us have never been hungry a day in our lives, but these folks don’t have enough food. It’s sobering. There’s such a great need, and this program supports what we at CMC are trying to do—support health and well-being in our community any way we can.”

Promoting Community Health

Working to address food insecurity in the community are (from left) Debbie Patti, Director, Human Resources, Community Medical Center (CMC); Danielle Salvo, Dietetic Intern, Rutgers University; Patricia Donaghue, Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer, Inspire-NJ; Gerald Barbato, Officer, Security Department, and Thomas Yanisko, Administrative Director, Hospitality Services, CMC.

The Whiting area is home to large numbers of underserved seniors and veterans, and CMC’s food programs show that the hospital “recognizes the need,” says Patricia Donaghue, Founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of Inspire-NJ. “Within a six-mile radius are over 19,000 seniors who could benefit from these services.”

CMC provided The Barn with 225 meals last Thanksgiving. And for 15 years, Yanisko has overseen a CMC staff food drive that collects tens of thousands of pounds of food annually, benefiting organizations such as The People’s Pantry in Toms River and CMC’s in-house food pantry for staffers who may need assistance.

Volunteers serving at The Barn often have opportunities to make residents aware of important CMC health care services such as physical therapy and diabetes care. “This program can be a gateway to other benefits the hospital is able to share with the community,” Yanisko says. “We’re working as a facility to expand services into our area, and reaching out to grassroots organizations like The Barn and Inspire-NJ is a good way to get the word out on what’s available.”

Donaghue praises not just CMC’s food efforts, but also the hospital’s positive influence on community health. “For some people, the meal they get through this program is their only meal of the day,” she says. “What better organization to help us feed them than CMC? We know the food is healthy and addresses people’s needs. It’s just a wonderful collaboration.”

To learn more about giving at Community Medical Center, visit cmcgiving.org.