Non-profit redirects food that would be wasted to those in need

GREENBRAE, Calif. (KTVU) -- A food program in Marin County captures what others might throw away and re-directs it  to those who are hungry and in need.

"So you guys have donations today?" calls out Extra Food volunteer Elena Pidgeon, arriving at Marin General Hospital with her 13-year-old son, Aidan.

A kitchen employee ushers them to the walk-in refrigerator where four trays, about twenty pounds of food, await them.

"Chicken casserole; we have donuts, and we have some leftover salad bar items," describes Mike Montross, director of Nutrition Services at the hospital, where 1,000 meals are served daily.

What didn't make it onto a dish in the hospital cafe, or on a tray headed for a patient's  room won't be tossed out, but instead taken away by the mother-son team wearing green aprons emblazoned with the words "Extra Food."

The program, almost two years old, has delivered about 330,000 pounds of food to recipients across the county.  

On any given day, meat, casseroles, vegetables and desserts might be packaged up at Marin General, one of the first donors to participate. 

"When we first started I thought I'd get a little resistance because it's one more thing to do, packaging up food," admitted Montross. "But everyone completely embraced it. They were thrilled it wasn't going to waste."

An estimated 40 percent of edible food in the U.S. ends up wasted, either composted or in landfills, where it emits methane that is harmful to the environment.  

"All of us have been to events, catered events, where there's too much, there's extra," explained Extra Food founder Marv Zauderer.

His non-profit recovers what restaurants, stores, and farms can't use, and carries it to shelters, senior centers, and youth programs.  

"So we talk to them, we say tell us about your food program," elaborated Zauderer. "What kind of food do you need? How much do you need and when do you need it?"

With about 100 donors and 60 recipients, the legwork comes from volunteers using their own cars and food safe containers.

"It never wears off. This feeling never wears off, " observed Elena Pidgeon as she arrived with Marin General's donation at the Homeward Bound shelter in Novato, a 20 minute drive.

"You're passing along your values to your kids: No waste, no hunger, give of yourself, it's so powerful," she said with a smile.

The refrigerated trays were quickly moved into Homeward Bound's cold storage, where they will be incorporated into the next day's menu.

"It's survival mode when you're hungry. You can't begin your journey unless you are well-fed," Executive Director Mary Kay Sweeney told KTVU.

Homeward Bound was one of the first recipients, with seven sites, serving hundreds of meals daily.

"I think a lot of hunger is invisible, with seniors, families, people on low income, they're really struggling to make ends meet," she added.

For Extra Food volunteers, being the go-between is a great feeling.

"Some people say a lot when we arrive, some say just a little, " Aidan Pidgeon told KTVU. "But they're always thanking us for the food we're giving them because sometimes it feeds 50 families."

With Marin's high cost of living, an estimated 40,000 people in the county struggle with hunger.

Extra Food is always looking for more food donations, from a wider variety of donors. To get in contact to donate food or volunteer, visit the organization's website at ExtraFood.org.    

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