Food Runners

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Learning Curve

By Andrew S. Ross
On-call Volunteer

I’ve made more than 60 runs since I started with Food Runners five months ago. That makes me a beginner, so I can’t say I’m speaking from experience.

My first ever delivery, was to Arriba Juntos, a community center in the Mission offering a range of programs for low-income and underserved children and parents in the area. Just one of more than 200 social service organizations, large and small, well-known and lesser-known, a panoply of human needs across the city.

My runs are primarily in the eastern parts: Inner Mission, Potrero Hill, South of Market. Neighborhoods where those in need find sustenance and care, and a respite from the streets: seniors centers like Castro Senior Center, halfway houses like La Amistad, women’s shelters like A Woman's Place, mental health care like Dore Clinic, veterans support like Veteran's Commons, immigration counseling like Valencia Community Center, a part of  Dolores Street Community Services.  Those “having a hard time getting by in society,” in the words of Patricia, the front desk clerk at the All Star Hotel, a 90-room SRO primarily for the homeless in the Mission. “If I didn’t have a job and a home to go to, I’d probably out on the street, acting crazy, too,” said Williams.

So, what am I learning, driving around areas where homelessness looks to be reaching dystopian proportions? That there are an awful lot of people having an awfully hard time in one of the richest cities in the world.  A lot of pain, a lot of people, more than I imagined. Hurting, damaged, physically and mentally, remaining for much of society out of sight and out of mind.

Not, however, to those on the front lines, providing care, sustenance and protection on a daily basis: the paid staff and volunteers, counselors and cooks at the places Food Runners delivers donated food to. To me, they are public servants in the truest sense of the term.

And Food Runners’ 600 donors -- grocery stores like Whole Foods, bakeries like Noe Valley Bakery, catering companies like Knight's Catering,  restaurants like Delfina, high-tech companies  like LinkedIn and business offices like Charles Schwab Corporation -- with a flow  of fresh fruit and vegetables, bread, milk, pastries, prepared meals, creating the first, critical link in the chain of assistance.

“None of it goes to waste, I promise you,” Williams, the front desk clerk at the All Star Hotel assured me.  That included the two sizeable bags of loaves and baguettes I brought from Tartine Bakery, one of the most revered bakeries in town. “Thank you, thank you. We’ll take everything,” a staffer at Golden Gate For Seniors in the Mission said to me, after receiving prepared dishes of curry, rice and salad from Spire, Inc., a health technology startup. “Sweets wouldn’t be bad,” she added with a smile. (Ok, next time, I’ll see what we can do.)