Food Runners

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

The Last Bus to Community

By David Tucker, Volunteer
Regular Run, Saturdays
Donors: Peet's Coffee, West Portal and Whole Foods Haight-Ashbury store
Recipient: Haight Ashbury Food Program

I’m in the middle of reading Ivan Doig’s classic novel of the American west, The Last Bus to Wisdom. That book and its vivid story of bigger-than-life characters  inhabiting the back roads and farms and rural hamlets of the America west reminds me of the bus (actually, a 1997 Plymouth Voyager) trips my wife Pat and I take each Saturday morning in our assigned Food Runner route stretching from our neighborhood Peet’s store, where we pick up lots of coffee, to the Whole Foods Store hard by the McDonald’s at Haight and Stanyan Streets, where each week we pick up hundreds of pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables  and eggs and bread, all to be delivered to the Haight Ashbury Food Program* (HAFP) pantry some four blocks away in the heart of the Haight.

Dave & Pat's car loaded up at Whole Foods
Along the way we meet some interesting characters – people Doig would have loved to sprinkle onto his novels.

First, there is Robert who for many years has been in charge of HAFP’s food distribution/pantry outlet headquartered on a ground-floor of a seen-better-days church building complex. Robert is there every Saturday morning at eight o’clock sharp when we arrive in our food-engorged bus  - a calm, centered and caring hand that makes the HAFP program hum. While you would never know it from Robert’s modest demeanor, his HAFP work has won him well-earned, gold-seal bedecked official accolades from the wider San Francisco philanthropic community.

Helping Robert unload our bus each Saturday morning are Steve and Mike, volunteers living in the Haight who give of their time to, among their many other HAFP chores, add muscle to the moving of the food from our bus into the pantry. They also add, by the way and more importantly, a steady diet of good humor, good cheer and …well…just plain goodness.

From left: Robert, Dave, Steve & Mike
Once we leave, having been unburdened of our food and coffee, Robert and Steve and Mike and numerous other volunteers spend much of the rest of Saturday seeing to the distribution through the HAFP pantry of fresh food to some 150 clients living in the Haight who have come to depend on the pantry for wholesome supplements to their diet.

HAFP staff ready for food distribution
Overseeing all of this effort from the standpoint of the HAFP board and its fundraising role is Jenn, a veteran of community-supported assistance to those in need. With a lilt in her voice and not a whole lot of prodding, Jenn speaks glowingly of HAFP’s early beginnings in 1983 as a soup kitchen and chef-training program that eventually morphed in 2010 into its current privately supported food-pantry format after seeing its government funding come to an end and losing its kitchen space. Jenn has a million stories to tell about HAFP’s colorful, hard-scrabble history – two of which involve a floating neighborhood poker game whose winnings become donations to HAFP and the true story that in its soup kitchen days some of HAFP’s “regulars” were UCSF med students, a group that famously and notoriously had a hard time making ends meet. Paying forward, many of these former clients have become regular HAFP donors as they open their wallets (and purses!) to remember the help they received during their medical training. Want to also help HAFP? Log onto “

To me and Pat, it is more than an honor and a privilege to regularly cross paths with these remarkable people. It is a blessing, truly a blessing, to get to know HAFP’s undaunted, unbowed, and unsung mini-heroes who quietly employ food to sew our community together – the very kind of characters around which Doig, if he were still alive, would have built a must-read novel.

*Food Runners has been serving HAFP for over 25 years.