People go hungry in Orange County but there is an excess amount of food that often just gets thrown away.

Waste Not OC – a public-private coalition whose goal is to tackle food insecurity by addressing food waste– has been rescuing food destined for the garbage dump since 2012. Through its partnerships with Orange County food banks and pantries the group has been getting that food to where it’s needed most.

But rescuing food is not without challenges.

One of the obstacles the coalition had to overcome to get businesses to donate their excess provisions early on was the concern for food handling safety. The biggest worry is the proper storage and transportation of perishables. Both the Orange County Food Bank and the Second Harvest Food Bank have identified additional refrigeration as a need for the distribution points.

The coalition is bringing a solar powered refrigerated shipping container later this month to Orange County for food banks to use as storage for their network of pantries.

“We have successfully been able to convert the first one in the world to solar powered and it is coming to Orange County as the cold storage solution all over the country and around the world,” said Mike Learakos, the executive director of Waste Not OC.

Mark Lowry, the director of the Orange County Food Bank and co-founder of Waste Not, said the shipping container is a creative and novel solution.

“The food that’s available to the food banks today is increasingly perishable and requires refrigeration. We need more refrigeration at the food bank. Second Harvest just expanded theirs, we’re working to expand ours, but we’re just one link in the food distribution chain,” Lowry said.

“We need to expand the capacity of those food pantries that exist throughout our community to be able to receive this food,” he added.

Learakos said the coalition rescued 20 million pounds of food last year, adding those are conservative estimates and he could not provide an accurate number of how much food is wasted in the county annually.

Food waste happens at every level of the supply chain.

“It is a problem everywhere,” he said. “For so many years, it was easier to throw food away than it was to make sure that we recovered it or used it properly.”

Learakos said the Waste Not OC model is an emergency food management tool and prior to the pandemic the coalition had identified different stages of crisis. When businesses were shut down some called the coalition to pick up their perishables.

“We had always anticipated the crisis would be an earthquake, but the pandemic is still a crisis,” Learakos said. “Restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, schools – people were calling us like crazy for the first three weeks asking us to come and pick up their perishable inventory.”

Harald Herrmann, chief executive officer of Second Harvest Food Bank Orange County, said as a nation we are quite wasteful when it comes to food.

“Just go to everybody’s refrigerator and see how much food is in there and how much is thrown away on a regular basis. Even with the best of intentions, everybody throws food away,” he said.

If more people in the food sector found a reliable and convenient way to donate their excess food to groups like Waste Not OC less people would be food insecure, Herrmann said.

“Organizations like Waste Not are challengers. They poke the bear. They prod us to think differently about food waste and so you could see them as potentially disruptive at times – maybe agitators at times, but in my opinion, a necessary service to any community,” he said.

The refrigerated shipping container is scheduled to be unveiled at Anaheim High School Aug. 19.

For anybody in need of food, pantries across Orange County are handing it out for free.

These include:

Power of One Foundation

Saturday, Aug. 8, from  8 a.m. – noon at the OC Fair in Costa Mesa

Saturday, Aug. 8, from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. at MainPlace Mall in Santa Ana

United Across Borders Foundation

Saturday, Aug. 8, from 1 p.m. – 3 p.m. at the Ambassador Church in Anaheim. 

701 S. Sunkist St., Anaheim, CA 92806

Uplift Charity

Saturday, Aug. 8, from 10 a.m. to noon at Al-Ansar Mosque 

1717 S Brookhurst St., Anaheim, CA 92804

Christ Cathedral 

Every Thursday 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.

First Saturday of every month 10 a.m. – noon. 

13280 Chapman Ave., Garden Grove, CA 92840

Sikh Center of Orange County Food Pantry

Every Saturday in August from 8:30 to 11 a.m. at the Gurudwara

2530 Warner Ave., Santa Ana, CA 92704

The Vineyard Anaheim Church 

Every Wednesday and Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Vineyard Anaheim Church

5340 E La Palma Ave., Anaheim, CA 92807

Laguna Food Pantry

Every Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-10:30 a.m.

20652 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach, CA 92651

For more food assistance options visit 211 OC.

If you operate a drive through food pantry in Orange County and would like our newsroom to be aware of your efforts, reach out to Hosam Elattar at or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC Reporting Fellow. Contact him or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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