Bringing Food to the People: Food Runners Adapts and Expands Services

Bringing Food to the People: Food Runners Adapts and Expands Services

As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Bay Area nonprofits adapted to continue serving their communities. For many direct-service organizations this meant reassessing the way they deliver services—moving to curb-side pickup, shifting to socially distant delivery, and expanding partnerships and programs to fill in gaps. The San Francisco Foundation launched the COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund to support organizations in making quick shifts to support Bay Area residents.

Since 1987, Food Runners has connected extra food with people and organizations that can use it. Mary Risley started Tante Marie’s Cooking School as a full-time professional school in San Francisco more than 35 years ago, and she immediately wondered what to do with the excess food. Mary founded Food Runners to pick up excess food from businesses and deliver it directly to agencies feeding the hungry in San Francisco. Food Runners regularly delivers more than 17 tons of food a week—enough for 20,000 meals.

The San Francisco Foundation made a COVID-19 Emergency Response grant to Food Runners to hire unemployed restaurant workers to prepare and serve meals to seniors, the homeless, and veterans living in San Francisco.
Mary shared this update below on how Food Runners has adapted its program to continue connecting food with people who need it during COVID-19.

In the first week of the San Francisco lockdown, a young chef called Todd Corboy contacted me about cooking for the hungry. So we started a “partnership,” as they say, where he started cooking from donated food in my kitchen. He borrowed gigantic pots, stood on a milk crate, stirred with a gigantic whisk, and made things like chili and vegetarian soup. His fellow cooks were Josiah, Marcella, and Karlla. The things they cooked were then chilled outdoors on ice and put into individual containers to distribute to people in need by Food Runners.

Chef Todd Corboy in the Waller Center kitchen, where he and a team of cooks and volunteers produce about 1,000 meals a day.

You see, places we normally take food—like Glide, NorthBeachCitizens, and Martin DePorres—are not allowed to serve meals indoors. Instead they are giving individual containers of food to their clients on the sidewalks out front. Also, there are many low-income apartment buildings were the residents have to stay in their rooms because one or two of the residents have tested positive for the virus. Les, Perla, and various Food Runners volunteers are distributing meals to these agencies and SROs to help alleviate hunger.

After two weeks, the whole operation was moved to the kitchens of the Waller Center (formerly known as Hamilton Methodist Church) in the Haight. With a larger kitchen, Todd was able to greatly expand the operation. With two more cooks and a host of volunteers, he is now supervising the production of approx. 1,000 meals a day, that is delivered six days a week to agencies feeding the hungry—all from donated food in a donated kitchen.

In the first couple of weeks, Food Runners was picking up masses of excess food from bars, restaurants, and delis in San Francisco that were closing. But now most of the donated food that Todd and his crew is cooking with comes from grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Gus’s Market, and Trader Joe’s. We also pick up twice a week from the SF Produce Market. We are very grateful for ALL THE FOOD that is donated and welcome more. If you know anyone with a business in SF with excess food, please tell them about our service.

Another really remarkable thing that happened in the last 4 or 5 weeks is that we have more than doubled the number of Food Runners volunteers; from just under 400 to well over 800. Granted, some of the new volunteers don’t live or work in SF and may go back to work in time, but we are very grateful for the extra help now. It is truly remarkable how much this calamity has drawn people together and led them to want to help each other.

Thank you everyone so very, very much,

Mary S. Risley
Director, Food Runners