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Fighting food waste and insecurity, together

2 November 2020 at 8:15 am
Maggie Coggan
Marcus Godinho is the CEO of FareShare, a food rescue organisation cooking up nutritious meals for those in need. He’s this week’s Changemaker.

Maggie Coggan | 2 November 2020 at 8:15 am


Fighting food waste and insecurity, together
2 November 2020 at 8:15 am

Marcus Godinho is the CEO of FareShare, a food rescue organisation cooking up nutritious meals for those in need. He’s this week’s Changemaker. 

When Godinho first stepped foot in FareShare as a volunteer in the early 2000’s, the organisation was running out of a rented kitchen with one driver. 

Since he took on the role of CEO in 2007, the charity has come a long way. Its Victorian branch runs a fleet of vehicles that collect surplus food from supermarkets, wholesalers, manufacturers and farmers, which is then cooked into 12,000 meals a day by a volunteer workforce. The charity also operates three kitchen gardens, providing a sustainable source of fresh produce for its kitchens. The meals are then delivered to over 400 charities across the state.  

And in Brisbane, the organisation has teamed up with Foodbank, which supplies the FareShare kitchen with surplus food, which is then cooked up into meals and delivered to Foodbank’s existing network of frontline charities supporting people doing it tough. 

During Godinho’s time as CEO, he has secured a partnership with Leader Community News to kickstart the Feed Appeal, which has raised over $7.5 million for community food relief charities across Australia over the past 10 years. 

Like many charities, FareShare has struggled during COVID-19, but under Godinho’s leadership, it has risen to the challenge of increased demand with fewer resources. 

In this week’s Changemaker, Godinho discusses leading through challenges, the importance of collaboration, and taking calculated risks. 

How did you get involved in FareShare? 

I heard about FareShare shortly after it started back in the early 2000’s, and headed down one Saturday to do a volunteer shift in the kitchen. I absolutely loved it, and wanted to come back the next week but they had so many people wanting to volunteer, so I had to cut it down to once a month. I then joined the board, and after a couple of years a few of us thought that there was potential to grow the organisation, and advertised for a full time CEO. 

I threw my hat in the ring for the job. Being a volunteer and sitting on the board gave me a bit of insight into running the organisation, but I went through the process like everyone else and got the job. I set my spare bedroom up as an office, and started fundraising. Our goal was to set up a dedicated kitchen from which FareShare could operate, and within 15 months we’d raised enough money to buy a building and fit it out with a kitchen, and then we were off. We went from running one shift a day from a rented kitchen to where we are today.

Since taking on the role of CEO what has your impact been? 

My approach has always been one of bringing people in who are very passionate and committed, and sharing that leadership by really empowering people. I don’t see the organisation as the cult of Marcus or anything like that. I very much feel as though it’s been a matter of engaging people who have a lot to give in terms of their attachment to the cause and their ability, and engaging those people and empowering them to contribute. So if I look back over the years, I’m sure I’ve had a considerable impact as the organisation’s CEO, but I wouldn’t have gotten anywhere without a really strong board, and excellent executive team who are really committed. We would also be nothing without our 1,500 regular volunteers, who have just brought so much to the organisation. 

One of the big challenges this year has been managing volunteers in a safe way during COVID-19. How did FareShare deal with that? 

I vividly recall 72 hours of panic. We couldn’t sustain what we do, running under our model where we’ve got over 1,000 people coming through our kitchen. It’s pretty much the anti-COVID responsible environment and practice. I spoke to our operation manager and said that we needed to remodel how we run without volunteers, with a paid workforce of highly productive kitchen workers that are with us full time. And by doing that, we can cut the number of people coming into the kitchen by 90 per cent and continue to cook just as many meals at a time when there’s going to be a growing need for food relief.

A couple of days later, I got a call from the Victorian state government saying that they were  setting up a scheme called Working for Victoria. While the government doesn’t normally support us, they needed us cooking as many meals as possible, and because we couldn’t do it with volunteers, they said they would support us to take on 50 hospitality workers that had been laid off. Within the space of a week, we shut down volunteering and brought in that paid workforce. That was actually quite intimidating, because we were used to working with a lot of typically retired people who come and help as volunteers. And as a result, we saw the number of meals jump from 55,00 to 130,000 a week. 

And what would you say some of your biggest achievements have been to date?  

Certainly setting up facilities which provide businesses and other food charities like Foodbank, Second Bite and OzHarvest a solution to surplus food. So for instance, if SPC Ardmona has 60 tonnes of crushed tomatoes. SPC already has a relationship with Foodbank, so they might think of giving all of those tomatoes to them. But Foodbank doesn’t actually have the resources to deal with that kind of produce. FareShare however has a kitchen with 300 litre cookers, and surplus food on that kind of scale is actually really useful for us. So whether it’s chicken that’s very close to its use by date, or drums of crushed tomatoes, we’ve got the facility to deal with it. And because FareShare’s mission is to collaborate and not compete with other charities, there’s this drive to work with others to provide that solution to surplus food.

Something I’m also proud of is the Feed Appeal, which I started back in 2008 with News Corp. One of the things that I saw at the time was that food rescue charities across the board were all collecting more food. I could see that there was going to be a bottleneck at the local charity level because we were all supplying these local charities with food when they didn’t have the capacity, resources, or equipment to make the most of all of the increasing amount of food that was being offered.

The appeal was set up to raise money that we could then use to give out small grants to local charities to put in place the facilities that they needed to make the most of the food that was being collected and offered. It’s been over a decade now, and we’ve given out over $5 million for charities across Victoria. 

We’ve also built a community of 1,500 regular volunteers, and involved a lot of businesses that feel really a part of FareShare. We’ve really empowered those people and those businesses to take part in a solution to food waste, and an activity that helps people who are doing it tough.

What advice do you have for someone wanting to get into the social sector?

I would always ask yourself what you’re passionate about. It could be climate change, it could be human trafficking, there are so many issues out there and there are so many great organisations working on those issues, but what speaks to you? Secondly, look at what your skills are, who you are as a person, your character, and what you like doing. Because it might be that you have a set of skills, but you don’t like using them.

For me, going from the corporate sector to the community sector, I could see how the skills I had could be transferred and were applicable in the not-for-profit sector. So it was quite deliberate and quite calculated. Do research into the charities working on the issues you’re passionate about, and even volunteer to get a sense of their culture, activities, and where the opportunities are. I’ve seen over the years so many people that have actually landed jobs because they’ve started volunteering within organisations that interested them. It’s also important to be bold and to take a risk. It might not always work out, but you learn from it and then you do something different.

And what do you like to do in your spare time?

My family has 100 acres of bush in central Victoria. And so for the last decade, we’ve poured so much effort into looking after what’s there and enhancing what’s there with a lot of grunt, muscle, tree planting and weeding to build a substantial wetland. It’s just been so rewarding. The diversity of flora and fauna that we’ve seen. It’s my happy place. We’ve got two boys, who are six and eight, and just watching them spend so much time growing on that property and just their confidence around nature is so amazing. I hope that one day they will become stewards of that land. 

Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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