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GATHERing Excess Food From Seacoast Restaurants to Feed Those in Need

Published Thursday Jun 27, 2024

Author Matthew J. Mowry

Tania Marino, culinary director of Gather and Chris Pietrafitta, a Gather volunteer, with a donation from Favorite Foods (Courtesy of Gather)

Food waste is a persistent challenge in the hospitality industry, but a Seacoast nonprofit launched a program to help feed people in need at a time when food insecurity is on the rise in the state.

Gather, a nonprofit that provides free food to residents in over 60 communities in southern NH, launched Seacoast Waste Not, connecting with local chefs and restaurants who are willing to donate their surplus ingredients. Gather picks up the food from participating caterers, restaurants, and clubs, and prepares healthy meals for members at its commercial kitchen. Seacoast Waste Not accepts an array of donations, including perishable and nonperishable foods, fresh or frozen items, single ingredients, and fully prepared offerings.

Gather’s Culinary Director Tania Marino points out that Seacoast Waste Not addresses hunger while also diverting excess food that would otherwise end up
in landfills.

“It’s estimated that in the U.S., almost 40% of food produced goes to waste and 10% of our households don’t have enough healthy food to eat. In many cases, food tossed into landfills is wholesome and fresh, so this initiative is a win/win,” Marino says. “The mission is to take food that would otherwise be discarded and transform that donated food into fully prepared nutritional meals that then get distributed to Gather members.”

Many of Gather’s members don’t have access to cooking facilities or can’t cook for themselves, including seniors and those who are unsheltered, Marino says.

The program launched with 10 participating businesses and hospitality leaders: Jennifer Desrosiers of Altitude Companies in Exeter; Evan Mallett of Black Trumpet in Portsmouth; Chris Barstow of Favorite Foods in Somersworth; Nina Parrott of Fifth Flavor in Rye; Mark Segal of Fold’d in Somersworth; Harley Smith of Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Cafe in Portsmouth; Tim Barr of Ore Nell’s Barbecue in Kittery, Maine; Sarah Cox of Tuckaway Farm in Lee, Paul Simbliaris of Tuckaway Tavern and Butchery in Raymond, and David Vargas of Vida Cantina in Portsmouth.

“As culinary director I helped spearhead the initiative with other Gather staff for an informal evening at my house where I cooked a meal and invited leaders in the community that I knew were very invested in food sustainability and diverting food waste. Those were some of our founding members,” Marino says. From there, the program has been adding more food businesses.

Parrott of Fifth Flavor has been working with Gather since 2017 and jumped at the chance to divert excess food from her catering business to help those in need.

“As a caterer my brand is bespoke, unique menus for every event,” she says, explaining that ingredients left over from one event won’t necessarily work for the next event. “There are leftovers from an event for a variety of reasons—someone may guarantee for 100 people but only 70 show up.” Now she can send that excess food to Gather, such as when she ended up with an extra case of lettuce and some cucumbers and peppers that Gather turned into 66 salads. “I am just thrilled about it.”

Donating excess food was previously difficult as restaurants and caterers had to figure out how to get the food to the pantry and the guidelines and laws around food donation. Gather has developed a streamlined process to make donating easy and safe, Marino says.

Member businesses can access a website page and quickly fill out an online form with the restaurant contact information, the type and quantity of food being donated, and any food safety information. Seacoast Waste Not then arranges for a volunteer to collect it. 

The food and ingredients donated changes daily as does the meals they prepare. For example, a catering company donated a case of shrimp and a case of lemons, which Gather used with donated pasta to create a shrimp scampi.

“We hope to increase the flow of food donations into the kitchen so we can increase the number of meals we’re making,” Marino says. “Unfortunately, the need for food is rising. At our Gather pantry on West Road, we’re seeing a record number of members visiting each day. Last year we averaged 50 to 60 members a day and we now average 70 to 80 a day. We are stretched to capacity.” Gather has also seen a higher demand at its mobile markets in the past year, Marino says.

Those interested in joining the coalition should fill out an application form on

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