A La Carte

According to the Silicon Valley Index, 12 percent of our population is food insecure. Yet experts estimate that one-third of our region’s prepared, institutional food goes to waste.

In 2016, Joint Venture made an appeal to Santa Clara County to fund an exploratory effort targeting corporate kitchens and engaging non-profits, government agencies, and food professionals. Contributing brain power to the effort were Joint board members Eric Houser (Wells Fargo), Dennis Jacobs (Santa Clara University), and John Sobrato (Sobrato Philanthropies).

With the alarming specter of hunger on the one hand, and so much unclaimed nutrition on the other, Joint Venture leaders decided to act. The result became a food recovery effort that brought relief to those in genuine need and also gained national attention.

The first major breakthrough came when Joint Venture signed Nancy Fishman to the team. She came from Detroit where she led one of the nation’s most extensive food recovery efforts. Applying lessons from Detroit and tailoring them to Silicon Valley, Nancy led the effort out of the exploratory stage and into execution.

The second major breakthrough came in 2018 when Stanford University signed on as the pilot institution, agreeing to package surplus food from the campus dining halls for delivery to needy communities in East Palo Alto and beyond.

The final breakthrough came when the Sobrato Family Foundation agreed to fund Joint Venture’s purchase of a state-of-the-art food truck (complete with refrigeration and heating) that could launch the delivery effort. The truck had to pass rigorous inspections by state and county health officials and the food handlers had to observe rules governed by a large body of regulation, but by Thanksgiving of 2018 Joint Venture’s lone food truck was ready for action.

The Joint Venture team began pulling up to various schools and community centers on randomized days. The staff at those locations were given advance notice, and they simply announced that leftovers from Stanford cafeterias had been packaged for take-out. The meals were distributed to all takers—parents, students, teachers, and others.

Facebook became the next participant. In June 2019 the social networking giant announced they would contribute surplus from their vast food facilities; they also financed the purchase of Joint Venture’s second truck.

With additional funding from the Moore Foundation and the State of California, A La Carte is now in the hands of Loaves and Fishes Family Kitchen. As a result, they have doubled their meal service capacity from 525,000 meals to over 1.2 million meals each year. They have extended services to the often-unrecognized homeless and hungry families, children, veterans, seniors throughout our community who struggle with hunger and food insecurity on a daily basis, and has become the largest provider of prepared meals in the Bay Area.

“This is the Joint Venture way,” explains Robin Franz Martin executive director of the initiative. “We incubate a project, prove the concept, and spin it out.”

John A. Sobrato, long-standing Joint Venture board member, shares Martin’s enthusiasm. "With the food insecure population growing in Silicon Valley, the Sobrato family wanted to be on the forefront of new innovations for distributing recovered food," he said. "We hope other Silicon Valley philanthropists will sponsor similar vehicles."

Robin Franz Martin: The Energy Behind the Food Recovery Initiative

The notion of hunger in Silicon Valley sounds like an oxymoron. Statistics prove otherwise. Robin Franz Martin, Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Food Rescue Initiative, came to Joint Venture in 2017 to pilot a model program for valley residents who are food insecure. Her motivation came from seeing excess food on the campus where her husband worked in tech.

The project “was conceived and incubated at Joint Venture,” says Martin. "I have been honored to proudly serve as the lead on the A La Carte project as it moves from idea to pilot project, from one truck and one donor to many. Now that the innovation is ready to be brought to scale, we are so thrilled to be partnering with Loaves & Fishes on the next phase of development."

With 20 years of experience in public health, Martin embodies a commitment to community service. A native of Ohio, she started her career with the NAACP working on urban environmental health issues. She founded a summer camp program for at-risk middle school students that exposed them to sustainable agriculture and healthy food options. Locally, she has led volunteer projects for LifeMoves, an organization committed to ending homelessness.

Martin says her favorite part of working on A La Carte is when recipients ask in disbelief whether the food is indeed free. “I have seen little kids do a happy dance when we have yogurt and bananas,” says Martin.

A La Carte’s first truck was underwritten by John A. Sobrato and Sobrato Philanthropies for $150,000 in September 2018. The initiative was also funded by CalRecycle’s Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Program, a subset of California Climate Investments, that puts Cap-and-Trade dollars to work in low income and disadvantaged communities. California Climate Investments funded the project to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, strengthen the economy and improve public health and the environment. Since June 2019 Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen has managed the operational aspects of A La Carte. This partnership will enable the initiative to grow and to have greater impact on the community. The reins were passed entirely to Loaves & Fishes on July 1, 2020. Contact: Mauricio Cordova or (510) 909-2209

Sobrato Philanthropies logo CA Climate Investments logo CalRecycle logo