Food Recovery in Marin County, California

Gerard Pozzi

Marv Zauderer is the Founder and Chairman of ExtraFood, a food recovery program whose mission is to help end hunger and eliminate food waste in Marin County, California. ExtraFood collects excess food from businesses and organizations and donates that food to nonprofits across the county. ExtraFood has delivered more than 317,514 kilograms (700,000 pounds) of food sourced from more than 150 donors to 78 nonprofit sites in Marin County. Aside from alleviating the widespread hunger that affects children, adults, and families, ExtraFood works to alleviate the environmental crisis by preventing methane from entering the atmosphere. Food Tank had the privilege to speak with Marv Zauderer about the genesis of ExtraFood and his work with the organization, as well as its impact on Marin County and its residents. 

Food Tank (FT): What inspired you to found ExtraFood?

Marv Zauderer (MZ): It started with this: hunger breaks my heart. Then I learned about the extent of the problem in my own community of Marin County, California—one of the wealthiest counties in the country—where nearly 50,000 people worry about where their next meal is coming from. It was shocking. And it was even more shocking that 40 percent of all edible food in this country is wasted. When the Executive Director of the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank encouraged me to start a food recovery program in Marin, that assured me that the program would be complementary to the food bank and meet an unmet need. And then ExtraFood’s godmother, Mary Risley—Founder of Food Runners in San Francisco, one of the first food recovery programs in the U.S.—told me they would share everything they learned. After that, I thought, now we have to do this.

FT: What are the mission and goals of ExtraFood?

MV: ExtraFood’s mission is to help end hunger and food waste in Marin. The word "help" in our mission statement is intentional: it emphasizes that solving these systemic problems will take an enormous, collaborative effort among many people and organizations across our county. The first step we’ve taken is our county-wide food recovery program. We pick up excess food from any business or organization, such as caterers, grocery stores, restaurants, and schools. We then immediately deliver the food to nonprofit partners—such as senior living facilities, shelters, home-delivered meal programs, and after-school programs—serving Marin’s most vulnerable children, adults, and families. We focus our work in the areas of greatest need, such as the food deserts in our county. We focus on serving vulnerable people, such as children and seniors, whose hunger is so often hidden. Our immediate goal is to enroll every available food donor in our program and get every available pound of fresh, healthy food to those in need. 

FT: What types of food do you take in for donation? 

MZ: Working closely with our recipient partners, we locate, recover, and deliver food donations that match each partner’s needs, including fresh produce, prepared food, dairy, eggs, meat, packaged goods, and baked goods. We only accept food that meets ExtraFood’s and our donors’ strict standards for food safety and usability. Nearly all of the food we pick up is excess food, but some comes through our Planned Giving program: a growing number of restaurants regularly make fresh food specially for us to pick up and deliver to those in need.

FT: How many volunteers does ExtraFood have, and how large is the recipient base? 

MZ: In the two plus years of our program, we’ve delivered donations to 78 recipient sites throughout our county. We’re reaching more than 5,000 people each month with our free service. Making such a significant difference does indeed take a village: our small staff is joined by an amazing team of 160 volunteers, dispatched online and by text message, who work 365 days a year to serve our food donors and those who are struggling with hunger.

FT: How much food has ExtraFood recovered since its founding in December 2013?

MZ: Since December 2013, ExtraFood has delivered more than 317,514 kilograms (700,000 pounds) of food—540,000 meals—to those 78 sites across our county. We’ve delivered more than 9,500 donations. We help our recipient partners serve more people, provide more complete and healthy meals, and shift their food program funds to other critically needed services. And we help our food donors reduce waste and make another difference in our community. 

FT: What positive impact does your work have on the environment? 

MZ: Food waste is an enormous environmental problem, chiefly because food waste in our landfills creates methane—a gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. If global food waste were a country, it would rank third in greenhouse gas production after the United States and China. We’re deeply concerned about the health of the planet that we’re leaving for our children; food recovery is a powerful way to reduce climate change.

FT: What are your future plans with ExtraFood?  

MZ: Since the requests we receive for food far exceed our supply, our immediate plan is to build capacity to meet the growing need. First, we’re ramping up our marketing program and food donor recruitment to drive growth in food donations. It’s so easy for businesses to donate food, and they can receive many benefits from donating—for example, saving money on disposal/recycling fees, receiving new tax deductions, and gaining publicity. To give an example of our awareness-building work, on October 30 the Sausalito Film Series is hosting a benefit for ExtraFood, with the award-winning food waste film, "Just Eat It," and a panel discussion featuring Dana Gunders of the Natural Resources Defense Council. We’re also adding to our infrastructure so we can organize, pick up, and deliver all of this additional food to more people in need. We’re constantly expanding a collaborative ecosystem of food donors, volunteers, recipients, supporting partners, and funders—a renewable resource for our community that will outlive all of us. We envision a day when food recovery is a way of life and all in our community have the food they need.

Click here for more information about ExtraFood.