They speak softly in melodious French accents. They wear long flowing habits, the kind rarely seen anymore except in movies or medieval paintings. Heavy crucifixes dangle from their slender necks. They are tireless. They are devoted. They are Sister Marie Madeleine and Sister Marie Isabelle of the Catholic religious order, Fraternite Notre Dame. Together, these petite, shy young women operate a fantastic soup kitchen at 54 Turk Street near Market, one of the roughest and most downtrodden areas of the Tenderloin. The Order's mission is "to provide help to the least ones and to the poor." The Sisters are doing just that week after week in amazing fashion.
The day that Food Runners founder Mary Risley and I met the Sisters, they bowed their swaddled heads while ushering us into the tiny, cheerful, apple-green dining room fronted by long windows with pointelle lace curtains spilling from ceiling to floor. Sister Marie Madeleine offered us juice and homemade cookies before giving us a tour of the freezer, the reach-in and the spotless, stainless steel kitchen. The Sisters cook and serve an astounding two to three hundred meals per day every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They gather the food and prepare the meals predominantly themselves aided only by a few volunteers like "Uncle Dickie" an older gent from the immediate neighborhood who enjoys doing something that matters.
Mary's and my motive for stopping by that day was to find out how Food Runners could help. Three hundred meals, three times a week adds up to a lot of slicing, dicing, simmering, boiling, stirring, pot-watching, menu planning, organizing and cleaning up to say nothing of the masses amounts of food required to feed so many people in need.
"Are you getting enough food?" Mary asked.
"Oh, non," Sister Marie Madeleine replied in her accented English shaking her head and looking at the floor. "What kind of food do you need most?" Mary inquired as she nibbled a buttery flower shaped cookie. "Chicken," answered Sister Marie Madeleine without missing a beat. "We can use fruit too and milk. And vegetables" she continued.
Mary turned to me. "Can you get the Food Runners truck here Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday mornings?" I nodded. "We can deliver chicken on the last few Mondays left of the meat program you set up in March," I offered. "And we sometimes get chicken from Trader Joe's. I can send that when we get it. I can send produce on Tuesdays," I said rifling through the daily donation lists in my head. "What about the Satruday Farmer's Market?" queried Mary. "Couldn't Keith add Fraternite to his other deliveries? Is anyone here on Saturday afternoons, Sister?" "Oui... I mean, yes," blushed Sister Marie Madeleine. "But only after 3:30." "That should work," I chimed. "I'll give Keith a call."
"Yes, sweets would be nice," Sister Marie Madeliene replied. "I think the people would enjoy sweets." "I know just the thing," I piped up excitedly. "One of the volunteers picks up from Kara's Cupcakes and Miette Cakes every Monday. It's usually a good amount too. I'll have her start bringing it here."
As we wrapped up and sorted out logistics, Mary asked Sister Marie Madeleine how the kitchen got started. "Our founder saw a need in San Francisco and he sent us here to fill the need," came the answer. Food Runners saw a need too and is proud to be sending food to Fraternite Notre Dame four days a week in support of their extraordinary work feeding the hungry of our community. Good is as good does and delivering to the Sisters is all good.
Food Runners picked up and delivered 117,450 pounds of food during the month of August. Volunteers performed 843 runs and the truck did 191. Food Runners welcomed four new donors in August including San Francisco Zoo's Taste of the Wild Catering. Many thanks this month to Events Etc. Catering for their fabulous donation of over 1,000 pounds of top o' the line gourmet barbecue left over when only 900 of the expected 1,500 guests showed up for a corporate picnic. Other caterers who called Food Runners with considerable donations in August included Paula Le Duc Fine Catering, Melon's Catering, Knight's Catering, Taste Catering and Living Room Events. Event attendance may be down, but that just means more food for Food Runners!
Do you have school age kids or grandchildren? September is Back to School time and that means the advent of school fundraisers. Have you ever been to a school fund raiser that didn't have too much food? Tell your child's school Events Committee about Food Runners. A simple phone call to 415-929-1866 will make a smiling Food Runners volunteer appear at the end of the big soiree to whisk away the leftovers and deliver them to a San Francisco shelter or food program in need. Good for you. Good for your school. Good for your community.