It was 3 p.m. on a hot Wednesday in San Jose, Calif. and people of all ages, body types and hues in the human rainbow waited in a ragged line on the HomeFirst Boccardo Reception Center’s large, shady porch. Some were leaning on walkers or canes or seated in wheelchairs. Everyone was carrying a bag or two of belongings or pulling them along in a cart—full of just enough personal comforts to sustain them overnight in a shelter. And everyone was hoping to be lucky enough to win the lottery for one of the 250 beds available at Boccardo that night.
HomeFirst cares for about 4,000 chronically homeless (homeless for a year or more) individuals, families with children, veterans, and youth each year in a number of facilities in the South Bay. The Boccardo shelter, Santa Clara County’s largest homeless services center, is known as a “low-barrier shelter,” welcoming any homeless adult it can by lowering the typical strict requirements for entry other shelters may have. That means its guests are some of the Bay Area’s neediest homeless.
Most of the mental energy of a chronically homeless person is focused first on where they will sleep that night and next on how and when they will find food.
“Those of our guests who have been on the streets for a while also have health issues—lots of diabetes and respiratory issues—so healthy eating is part of the way we can save their lives,” says Stephanie Demos, HomeFirst’s Chief Development Officer. “They will eat whatever they can find out there; they may eat food that comes from garbage, and then they can get even sicker, so what NetApp does is very important.”
What NetApp does now at its Sunnyvale headquarters and also at its RTP and Wichita sites—is supply local shelters like Boccardo with fresh and healthy surplus foods from its own cafes, food that would otherwise go to compost.
Working together to do the right thing
Two important partners now make it easy for NetApp to give the gift of its surplus café food. NetApp has the support and assistance of culinary staff from Guckenheimer, the restaurant management company that operates food services at NetApp cafes and special events. And the company now also employs Copia, a Bay Area startup, whose apps match extra food available on a given day with specific non-profits that need it. Copia then organizes and expedites the tracking and transport of the food from each café location directly to the shelter requesting it. The company also sources food from restaurants, hospitals and corporate cafeterias—and currently works with organizations like Stanford Hospital, the San Francisco 49ers, Lyft, Cisco, HP and Intel.
“NetApp’s values have always focused on ‘doing the right thing’ for our communities, and I love the fact that we can meld the social mission of feeding the hungry into our corporate environment,” says NetApp’s Workplace Resources and Real Estate VP Kathy Tyra, who is the sponsor for the Copia relationship. “We didn’t have to do anything extraordinary to make this happen, and it has an enormous impact on those people who need food the most.”
While there are few national statistics readily available about the quality of US shelter food, homeless shelters make it abundantly clear that they can certainly use the kind of highly nutritious and tasty food that NetApp’s cafes produce.
“Our non-profit recipients are always thrilled with the quality and variety of the food we deliver,” says Copia Content Creator Kelsey Galles. “Usually shelters serve the same food day-in and day-out and there isn’t very much protein, as it is expensive. One of our recipients told me that they have a $500 monthly food budget to serve 13,000 people. Clearly, they rely very heavily on donations, and the donations from Copia specifically are very helpful for them.”
Deciding what to donate
How does the food move from NetApp’s serving stations to those at its partner shelters? At Sunnyvale Headquarters, it all starts under the watchful eye of Guckenheimer’s Executive Chef Stephen Higgs as he observes activity at the lunchtime serving stations in the Building 3 café.
Higgs is the point person for every piece of food that moves through the café. He leads the complex planning involved with feeding thousands of employees every weekday. Experienced in setting up the systems needed for “good food husbandry,” he is responsible for making purchasing and production decisions for massive quantities of food and is tasked with ensuring both quality and efficiency.
“It’s a necessary evil in corporate dining that we will always make surplus food,” he says. “Imagine going along a buffet. If you’re the first person at the line, it’s all big and plentiful. Suppose we’ve made the exact number of portions we need and we’ve got one portion left in the corner of a pan for the last person. It might be perfectly delicious, but it can look lost and lonely all by itself. It’s why we always ‘pad out,’ to a certain extent, so that the last person feels they have exactly the same food as the first person. I would prefer to have zero waste but that’s never going happen.”
Wherever possible, Higgs’ goal is to move food purchased and prepared for the cafe efficiently through its system, perhaps transforming something like roast chicken from a station entree into a salad bar or a soup ingredient. But even though the café cooks from scratch, certain foods, like grilled salmon, cannot be re-cooked. Or the Asian station, for example, may have orange chicken left over that can’t be moved on through the system. In both cases, Higgs will now pass that food on to Copia, even if there are only five servings left.
The beauty of Copia, according to Higs, in contrast to other companies in this business, is that small quantities of food portions are always welcome and accepted. Copia also accepts any kind of food. And, committed to keeping the food it transports as fresh as possible, Copia also promises to pick up and deliver the food whenever it is ready.
Apps guide the journey of the food from company to driver to shelter
Once a company has decided which foods to donate, Copia’s three apps keep pickup, transport and deliveries in motion. The “Non-Profit App” lets non-profits request the type of food they need on a particular day or set up a formal schedule for delivery specifying what foods they usually accept and what days and times they can accept it.
Higgs, who says the system works “really, really well,” prepares the surplus food he has set aside for Copia in a matter of minutes with Copia’s “Prep App.” After placing the food in a covered pan for transport, he uses the Copia scale to weigh it, records the weight, enters a food category, places the pans in a large bag, and scans the code on the bag. It’s now ready for pickup.
The Copia drivers all have the “Drive App,” which takes the information keyed into the “Prep App” and matches it to a non-profit recipient needing that volume and type of food that day. The Drive App gives each driver information about when and where the food is to be picked up, its type and weight and where to be delivered.
Where NetApp’s surplus food goes
Possible destinations for NetApp’s surplus café food are multiplying. Right now, Copia has a presence in Denver, Austin, Texas and LA in addition to RTP and Wichita, but aspires to be available and active in every U.S. city. Currently there are five South Bay homeless organizations that benefit from NetApp’s surplus food donations, including HomeFirst. The others are:
- LifeMoves: Julian Street Mission
- Recovery Cafe
- CityTeam Ministries Men’s Recovery San Jose
- Teen Challenge San Jose
Food for the soul
While NetApp’s Sunnyvale Café, which has scheduled pickups each Wednesday and Friday, may only donate between three and eight trays of food each time, it all adds up. Between September 2017 and June 1, 2018, Copia’s apps show that, taken together, the three NetApp sites recovered 4,666 pounds of healthy food to donate to homeless organizations, which the company calculates have provided 3,888 meals—or fed 28 families twice a day for a month. The Sunnyvale Café has donated about 3,500 pounds or 2,900 meals.
“Combined with donations from other South Bay businesses, NetApp’s thousands of pounds of food contribute to sustained impact for the community,” says Kelsey Galles. “Our community partners can rely on consistent, high-quality donations throughout the year instead of one-time drops during the holidays when people typically donate canned food. NetApp is essentially a part of a ‘crowd-sourced’ impact that results in consistency and reliability for our nonprofit partners like HomeFirst.”
Copia also calculates gallons of water saved by conserving this amount of food (1.7 million) and pounds of CO2 emissions diverted (20,500).
What is most important, however, may be the other ways NetApp’s café surplus sustains homeless shelter guests. Every day at HomeFirst, Stephanie Demos sees good food do more than just fuel the body.
“We’re huge here on respect and dignity,” she says. “People need to feel like they matter—and food is one of the ways that people feel nourished and emotionally cared for.”
In some ways, NetApp’s surplus café food nurtures people’s bodies and souls.