A La Carte

A La Carte is a project that was conceived and incubated by Joint Venture Silicon Valley. Since July 2020 it has been in the good hands of Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen. The initiative was first initiated by Joint Venture in 2016 and championed by Nancy Fishman, Ph.D., a psychologist, family law mediator, and author, who relocated to Silicon Valley from Detroit, where she founded Forgotten Harvest, a fresh food rescue program in 1990. The initiative was subsequently directed by Robin Franz Martin 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.

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."

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