A La Carte
A La Carte is a project that was conceived and incubated by Joint Venture Silicon Valley. In July 2020 the program was adopted by Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen. The project was brought to fruition by Robin Franz Martin who was lucky enough to recover the first meal from Stanford University, and who continues to lead the charge for food recovery at Joint Venture.
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.
Two major breakthroughs 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, and when the state agency CalRecycle decided to fund the project through their Food Waste Prevention and Rescue Grant Program.
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. 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 project is a great example of how Joint Venture can be of service to our community,” explains Robin Franz Martin, executive director of the initiative. “We incubated an innovative idea for a project, proved the concept, and found a great long term home for the project to grow and thrive.”
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."
The Project was honored to receive several awards while Joint Venture was involved, including the 2020 CA Resource Recovery Association's Outstanding Edible Food Recovery Award and the 2020 Acterra Green Business Environmental Innovation Award.
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. In June 2019 Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen began operating A La Carte, with the transition complete in 2020. This new home enabled the project to grow and to have a greater impact on the community. For current information about A La Carte, visit www.loavesfishes.org/meal-programs.